In the Comedy ‘The Grand Seduction,’ Depressed Townsfolk Court a Savior

Where everybody knows your name

The grand Seduction.
The Grand Seduction.

Life in Tickle Head, the Canadian fishing village in Don McKellar’s The Grand Seduction, is rough. The cod is depleted. The houses are dilapidated. The townsfolk are hopeless. They line up every month to collect their welfare checks, a sad procession through the local bank, whose teller, one of the few people in town with a steady job, may soon be replaced by an ATM.

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The Grand Seduction ★★½
(2.5/4 stars)

Written by: Michael Dowse and Ken Scott
Directed by:
Don McKellar
Starring: Liane Balaban, Brendan Gleeson and Taylor Kitsch
Running time: 113 min.

It wasn’t always thus. Tickle Head, a voice-over tells us, was a thriving harbor before a cod moratorium sent the town into a funk. The men worked hard. The women cooked good meals. The men and the women had good sex, as demonstrated at the film’s start, in a clumsily handled segue, by the panting that emanates from a bedroom window into the night. 

All, in other words, was once well—and will be well again, because this isn’t Angela’s Ashes; it’s a comedy. How the town gets there is where this story, adapted from the 2003 Québécois film Seducing Dr. Lewis, begins. In order to emerge from that economic slump, the people of Tickle Head are enticing a factory, otherwise referred to as a “petrochemical byproduct repurposing facility,” to be built in their town. The only catch is the oil company’s insurance requires a local doctor.

Enter Paul Lewis (Taylor Kitsch, of Friday Night Lights), a 29-year-old plastic surgeon from Toronto who is sent to Tickle Head for one month by an airport security officer who finds cocaine in his carry-on. The mayor, Murray French (Brendan Gleeson), springs into action, knowing he must make a good impression if he is to convince the doctor to stay on for a five-year contract. And it is with this titular grand seduction that things get funny. Paul lives for cricket, so the people pretend to love it too. (“I thought you’d all love hockey,” Paul says when he arrives. “Oh, we can’t stand hockey,” Murray tells him.) They tap his phone and find out he likes the Indian dish lamb dhansak, so they serve it at the local restaurant. Paul’s favorite music is jazz fusion, so a reluctant townsman suffers through some listening sessions. Five-dollar notes are placed regularly on a wharf for Paul to find, and he slowly falls for the town and all of its idiosyncrasies.

In the small-town-conspiring-on-a-big-lie genre, The Grand Seduction doesn’t get near the mastery of 1998’s Waking Ned Devine, but the shots of the village in Newfoundland, where it was filmed, are beautiful, and the local accents are convincing. If the film feels a bit clunky at times, it rarely slips into cliché. You may think the title has a double meaning when the young town post mistress is positioned as Paul’s potential love interest. But to its credit, The Grand Seduction steers clear of that kind of sappiness, focusing instead on the more satisfying theme of collaborative, aspirational scheming.

In the Comedy ‘The Grand Seduction,’ Depressed Townsfolk Court a Savior