The Grand Seduction
Starring Brendan Gleeson, Taylor Kitsch, Liane Balaban, Gordon Pinsent, and Rhonda Rogers
Directed by Don McKellar
Run Time: 113 minutes
Opens June 20th
By Eric Forthun of Cinematic Shadows
The Grand Seduction is a charming independent film that puts the mind at ease and engages the audience with eccentricities. It’s a rarity in cinema nowadays to see a film as strangely grounded as this, a throwback to a simpler time of filmmaking where character-driven stories dominated the landscape. The humor is wry and flows with ease, the drama is deeply felt, and the plot meanders around aimlessly as it navigates these characters’ blocked paths. The film centers on the small harbor of Tickle Cove, a fishing haven that is in dire need of a town doctor to help them convince a company to build a factory. The town is ravaged by the economy and has felt the effects of a changing world landscape, with jobs being destroyed by the lessening demand for their blue collar jobs. Small towns and companies simply cannot thrive the way they used to, considering the story starts with a flashback to the 1950s when people felt financially stable and secure. It feels like a myth when played out on screen.
The film’s protagonist, Murray French (Brendan Gleeson), had a strong fishing father but is on welfare now and sees his wife leave for the city to support them financially. These are straining times, as emphasized by the nature of the stereotypically domestic household being torn apart. The wife, who in the town used to stay at home and prepare meals while the men were away for 13 hours a day, is now working more than the husband and attempting to provide the financial support needed for the family. Murray comes up with an idea: a manufacturing or environmental company could move into the town to provide everyone with the jobs they need, yet the town needs to become appealing and have a living doctor to ensure that protection is provided. These are people adjusting to the new world and finding out that they must effectively lie to survive. In comes the help of Dr. Paul Lewis (Taylor Kitsch), a newly graduated doctor who is tricked into coming to their town for a month.
The town has to lie in order to convince him to stay, since their harbor isn’t the most exciting: they tell him that they love cricket (the doctor’s favorite sport), they tidy up the trash-ridden harbors and streets, plant money so he finds it everyday when walking home, and ultimately make him believe that their town is the place for him to be. The story is largely contrived and formulaic when breaking down the elements that traditionally come around in whimsical, light-hearted comedies, as characters aren’t seen doing things when they obviously should, but the framing makes it seem like everyone is oblivious; dialogue is vague and obviously giving away that the characters are lying, but people like Paul believe the liars because they are saying what he wants to hear; and pacing relies on putting drama right after comedy in virtually every scene, making for an uneven mix tonally.
Yet the film shines because of its acceptance of the pessimistic elements of its story. There’s a character in the film who works as a bank teller for a major corporation who knows very well that his job is trivial; he could be replaced by an ATM and it wouldn’t make a difference to the company. The central conflict lies in the fact that these renewable resources that the incoming company is creating are not glamorous, but rather harsh and demanding for workers. The company is led by greedy, seedy individuals that Murray and Paul know are deplorable but the only way this town can survive. Where there should be optimism in a standard comedy, The Grand Seduction asks the characters to accept that their lives will move on, even if their dignity is a bit lost by having to succumb to such low economic standards. Gleeson is excellent in the lead while Kitsch is asked to be charming and not much else, but the film isn’t about performances so much as story. It’s funny, charming, pleasant, and full of just enough commentary that we forgive its flimsy plot.