I can count on one hand the number of Canadian movies I actually like (well, maybe two hands at this point). I reject most at the trailer stage for being boring, confusing, pretentious, or only playing in Toronto. So when the previews my theater showed for The Grand Seduction made me laugh, it didn’t matter what else was coming out this week. I HAD to see it.
An unemployed fisherman convinces his town to lie to a visiting doctor so he’ll stay and help them meet the oil company’s requirements for a new factory.
The trailers made it seem like a romantic comedy, and it was. But the romance wasn’t between the doctor and the woman he meets in town. It’s between the doctor and the town. And while there were a few things in The Grand Seduction that I found hard to believe, it was easy to enjoy.
Our main character is not the doctor (as you might be thinking). It’s Murray (Brendan Gleeson) the unemployed fisherman who takes over governance of Tickle Head harbour after his wife (Cathy Jones) and their mayor (?) take off to work in ‘town’ (read: St. John’s). Pretty much everyone in the cast is Canadian except for Brendan Gleeson, who is Irish, but since Newfoundland accents sound kind of Irish anyway, he fits right in. They don’t go whole-hog with the accents, though. Then the movie would need subtitles.
Although director Don McKeller and Entertainment One seem to be going big-league with The Grand Seduction, distributing it widely among critics and theaters in the States as well as Canada, neither the official page nor IMDB has more than a handful of the cast listed (Dear Don McKeller/Entertainment One: update your IMDB page). So this review has a lot of question marks after supporting characters are mentioned.
And then Paul watched TV with… some people.
Murray convinces all of Tickle Head to lie about what they like in order to seduce Dr. Paul Lewis (Taylor Kitsch), who was basically blackmailed into visiting by the former mayor. Paul is obsessed with cricket (which would have made more sense if his character was British, Australian, or Indian, but whatever). Therefore Murray decides that everyone must dress in cricket whites made from towels and tablecloths and pretend to know how to play cricket.
He’s coming over here! Someone throw the doohickey at the canoe paddle!
They learned about Paul’s cricket obsession from the mayor, but for his other favorites, Murray and his co-conspirators Simon (Gordon Pinsent) and Henry (Mark Critch) hook up an old wiretap machine they just happened to have lying around in a shed so Vera (Mary Walsh) and her friend (?) can listen in on Paul’s calls. Including the naughty ones to his fiancé Helen (Anna Hopkins).
HELEN: So what would you do if you were here?
PAUL: I would…
VERA: For god’s sake! Tell her!
So it’s a silly movie that requires characters to be a little dumber and less observant than you would typically expect from people with eyes, but it did make me laugh. I especially liked when the entire town snuck from the bar to the church to trick the oil company executive (?) into thinking Tickle Head had enough people to staff the factory, and when Simon and Murray hooked a frozen fish onto Paul’s line to make him think he’d caught something.
PAUL: You know, that fish felt really cold.
MURRAY: Yeah, he probably came from way down deep.
Murray even goes so far as to ask Kathleen (Laine Balaban), the postmistress, to flirt with Paul, even though Paul is engaged. Kathleen has more self respect than that, so the ‘romance’ subplot consists of a mere handful of scenes in which Paul makes tentative overtures and Kathleen shuts the door in his face. So it doesn’t really go anywhere. I think it would have been better if Paul was unattached.
Hey big boy, want to ditch your offscreen fiancé and have a REAL love story?
The bigger ‘romance’ between Paul and Tickle Head (as mostly represented by Murray) is built on a foundation of lies (like most relationships in romantic comedies). I wish I could say that as the movie progressed, the people Tickle Head fell for Paul as much as he fell for them, but I couldn’t really shake the sense that he was a means to an end for them. That they would romance a walrus if that’s what it took to create jobs. Which is funny, but not heartwarming.
Why yes, Doctor Tuskington, we also enjoy eating sea urchins and bellowing.
I can (unfortunately) relate to that kind of desperation, but with every lie they told it seemed less and less believable that Paul would forgive them when he eventually found out. I won’t say whether he does or not (though you can probably guess) but I will tell you that the film’s climax was disappointing. It was too rushed. Nobody really got a chance to work through their problems before the plot hurried them along to the end of the movie.
MURRAY: Paul, where ya goin’?
PAUL: The script says I have to go over here now.
They did a good job with Tickle Head, though. It looks both beautiful and run down at the same time. The people are all on welfare but they work together when they’ve got a project (too bad they can’t sell lies – they’d all be rich) and they’re kind, good-natured, and have a great sense of humor.
I feel like I’ve met some of these people… or at least their flannels.
So what’s the verdict? It’s funny, it’s not boring or pretentious, it’s Canadian, and it’s playing at a theater near you. Go see it right now. Maybe if enough of us pay good money to see it, more fun Canadian movies will get funded in the future.