Grand Seduction, TheReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/06/14 12:44:07
The previous version of "The Grand Seduction", a French-Canadian film from about ten years ago, seems to have been fairly well-regarded along with being popular enough to inspire a remake. That isn't necessarily surprising; it's the kind of story where if things break just right, something very silly can come off as quite charming. That's something the makers of this English-language version only manage fitfully, though, banking on a charm that never quite materializes.It starts off with a nifty bit, as Murray French (Brendan Gleeson) remembers what his home town of Tickle Head, Newfoundland was like when he was a kid, with strong men standing up straight as they headed out to fish in the morning, only to have it reflected in the present by Murray and most of the rest of the town lining up for their welfare checks. The best hope they have is to lure a petrochemical plant to the area, but one of the requirements for the contract is a full-time doctor in the town. One falls in their laps when Dr. Paul Lewis (Taylor Kitsch) runs afoul of the former mayor (now working security in the St. John airport), who manages to get Lewis to stay there for a month, during which time the whole town puts on a show to convince him to stay.
This is a silly plot with an obvious hole that for some reason doesn't dawn on any of the characters in the film until the very end despite the fact that everyone in the audience likely picked up on it almost immediately. You can get away with it if there are enough funny or absurd things going on that the audience figures that's just the way the movie's world works, or if they're just too busy laughing, but the script by Ken Scott (who also wrote the original) and Michael Dowse not only has relatively few jokes that take a long time to play out for relatively weak punchlines, but it's loaded down with subplots like Murray's marital problems and the insecurity of the manager of the local bank office or the other things the company might want that aren't particularly funny and don't do much to increase the tension in the main story. The end is a mess of things that just don't make any sense.
Director Don McKellar doesn't help at all. He hasn't been behind the camera for a feature since 2004's deeply flawed Childstar, and the intervening time hasn't helped him get a better handle on what's funny - he's trying for dry, but mostly manages dull and awkward. The movie doesn't quite crawl, but it moves too slowly for the relatively paltry amount that happens. He stretches to try and do something clever, like shots from a security camera after someone comments that people watch those tapes, and the audience sees more effort than result. He and his crew take advantage of some beautiful scenery and a picturesque harbour town, so at least it's something nice to look at.
The pity is, the right cast has been assembled. Brendan Gleeson is a great character actor in the sort of role where he excels, and he sells the material as best he can; when the movie works, it works because of him. Taylor Kitsch displays enough charm and comic chops that he probably could have made something out of this part if he were given an actual character with a personality rather than a couple of hobbies. Gordon Pinsent deadpans well as Murray's best friend Simon, and Liane Balaban brings enough prickly energy to what is apparently the only eligible young woman in the harbour that one wonders why she wasn't made an actual important part of the movie.It's a case of all the little ways a comedy needs to execute being below average, and while the film never actually feels dreadful, it's constantly sinking when it needs to rise. McKellar and company get some of those moments right, and "The Grand Seduction" becomes a fun, charming movie; unfortunately, it looks as if something must have been lost in translation.
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