Friday, 29 August 2014

"The Grand Seduction" (The Daily Telegraph 29/08/14)

The Grand Seduction (12A cert, 113 min) **

2003’s Seducing Doctor Lewis – small-fry Quebecois whimsy, describing one fishing community’s efforts to hold onto a visiting city doctor, and thereby bait further investment – somehow earned a Sundance Audience Award, a Cannes berth and six French-Canadian Genies. In 2006, it washed up on these shores, long after we’d seen Local Hero, and witnessed medics from Doc Hollywood to Doc Martin succumbing to bucolic small-town ways. That this story has taken nine further years to putter into Newfoundland for its English-language remake suggests no urgent need to retell it, and Don McKellar’s The Grand Seduction mostly bears that assertion out.

A pressing real-world concern – the dereliction facing certain working-class outposts – is again smothered under layers of movieland contrivance, resulting in perhaps the cinema’s cosiest ever kidnap thriller. When slick physician Paul Lewis (Taylor Kitsch) gives no indication of sticking around Tickle Head after his 30-day secondment, the locals – coached by increasingly desperate Mayor Murray (Brendan Gleeson) – begin a prolonged charm offensive. Discerning that the doctor’s a cricket fan, they strive to fathom the LBW rule. Upon learning Lewis likes curry, his meals gain added spice. Soon everyone’s even feigning interest in the doctor’s beloved jazz fusion.

It’s nice of them, and it’s a nice film, but never an especially interesting one. Frank Capra – another influence – realised decency might be better defined against venality and self-interest, and thus reaffirmed as both a rallying flag and a weapon. Here, you wouldn’t necessarily have to be a grouch to find the unrelenting pleasantry rather twee and monotonous – nor to spot how the reliance on the community’s stock personalities (the crotchety recluse, the nervy accountant, the dotty old dears staffing the telephone exchange) precludes the need for anything so vulgar or ambitious as jokes.

Gleeson, typically, resolves to have some fun with this material – he earns a chuckle from Murray’s sly offer of cocaine to his visitor (“We’re down with it”) – but he, too, becomes a prisoner of this plot, forced to incarnate hale-and-hearty blue-collar man rather than allowed to attempt anything more distinctive; once we learn Dr. Lewis never really had a father, the endgame is never in doubt. First time round, this yarn made for a negligible timewaster; the McKellar variation is brighter, starrier, possibly more genial – bending over backwards, like its characters, to charm allcomers – yet still it seems unimprovably piffling. Maybe it’s a Canadian thing, eh.

The Grand Seduction opens in selected cinemas from today.

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