“The Grand Seduction” slowly brings its story into focus and then sneaks up and becomes quite funny. It’s an English-language Canadian film based on a 2003 French-Canadian film (“Le Grand Seduction”), which only goes to show that if you have a bilingual country, you can make everything twice.
If anything, the economic situation over the past decade has lent the story extra meaning. It concerns a harbor village in northeastern Canada, Tickle Cove, where fishing has dried up, and so everybody is on the dole and everyone in town is poor and depressed. However, there is one possible light on the horizon, in the form of a petroleum processing plant that could be persuaded to come to Tickle Cove. The only catch is that the town needs to have a physician in residence. Without a doctor, they can’t get a deal.
The seduction of the title, then, is of a young doctor (Taylor Kitsch), a city slicker who comes to town for a month. The village’s mayor, Brendan Gleeson, makes it the community’s mission to make this doctor want to stay. To that end, he has the doctor’s phone tapped (so as to track his reactions and learn his desires), leaves five-dollar bills on the street for him to find (so he feels lucky) and even tries to serve as a father figure to him. The mayor goes so far as to pretend to have had a son his age, who died 10 years before.
Because the set-up is obvious, the audience is ahead of the humor, in that we know the nature of the jokes before they’re devised. This puts pressure on the screenwriters to exceed our expectations, but they do. “The Grand Seduction” has a sober vibe and a methodical pace, and yet there are more than a few moments that are laugh-out-loud funny. But then it was directed by Don McKellar, who knows comedy, and who co-starred on TV’s “Slings and Arrows” as the pretentious stage director, Darren.
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Gleeson is especially nimble, grounding the humor in the mayor’s desperate need to redeem his image of himself, from a man who collects government checks to one who works for a living. Taylor Kitsch, who has previously been thought of as the beefcake star of action movies (most notably the awful “John Carter”) shows a lighter, warmer side as the young doctor. He can act, and after this, maybe he'll get another chance.