Release: Friday, May 30, 2014 (limited)
The theater where I went to see this film didn’t serve nearly the appropriate amount of my favorite lager. They also failed to carry appropriate beer-drinking mugs. So, making do with what I had, I found myself toasting the events on screen with a luke-warm plastic cup filled with a swill of Coors Light.
The Grand Seduction is one of those films whose infectious spirit is so great you won’t notice yer actively participatin’ in the singin’ an’ drinkin’ an’ dancin’ ’til yer bein’ forcefully removed from the theater because of the racket ya be causin’.
Unfortunately, the above wasn’t an anecdote; at no point in my moviegoing career have I ever been escorted from a cineplex. (Have any of you?) Point is, there’s little you can really do to avoid being seduced by this eccentric little film. Its hooks will be in deep thanks to charming performances delivered across the board. Spearheaded by the great bearded Brendan Gleeson — whose Irish heritage will likely have you confused about where this film is supposed to be set on more than one occasion — the cast’s efforts certainly help overshadow a story that is largely lacking in originality or plausibility.
The French film La grande séduction debuted at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival to such a warm reception that an English language version was immediately suggested; it’s popularity all but demanded it. After several setbacks including directors dropping in and out of the project, the current film finally was fleshed out with an appropriately eclectic talent pool in Gleeson, Taylor Kitsch, Gordon Pinsent, Liane Balaban, and Mark Critch.
In a brisk hour and forty minutes we are stolen away to the remote harbor of Tickle Head, a place so insignificant Newfoundland barely even wants it. It’s an extreme northern locale whose downtrodden appearance and sparse human population is frequently mined for comedy, often very successfully. But the movie lies within Gleeson’s Murray French, a man whose joviality belies a spirit slowly crushed by lifelong hardship. When the town mayor abandons his post for better job prospects on the mainland, Murray starts spinning a web of lies in order to make Tickle Head a more attractive place for the young Dr. Paul Lewis (Kitsch).
Why, pray, does this little outcropping home to barely more than 100 need a good-looking, wealthy townie for a doctor?
Well it’s all a part of the deal Murray’s trying to secure with a major oil conglomerate that has tentative plans to bring a factory to the area. The good people of Tickle Head sure could use the work. Instantly Murray sets about fabricating a number of stories and overhauling the community to the doctor’s liking — he even requires everyone to embrace the sport of cricket, and suppress their passions for a real sport, like hockey. Finding a scene this year that’s more intrinsically hilarious than watching a group of disoriented old men in white and pink linen attempt to master this obscure skill by the edge of a sun-dappled cliff is going to be a real challenge.
As Murray continues to stage his grand seduction for the doctor, who continues to struggle with being away from his wife and familiar surroundings, the lies become more significant, eventually posing something of a moral conflict for Murray and they start to spiral out of control. It’s a tipping point for the credibility of the script, as well, unfortunately. How much of this are we really meant to take seriously? At times the silliness swells to a point where its understandable that the entire production need not be taken seriously, though this is not entirely the case. There are a few moments of genuine human drama peppered throughout this farce, though it’s easier to take The Grand Seduction at face value as a straight comedy.
Despite it’s tendency to venture into cliche territory, this adaptation has a huge heart. Good luck not cracking a smile, at the very least. And remember, for a film like this its always a good idea to bring a frosty mug from home. The people of Tickle Head openly invite you into their homes, and it would be rude not to bring offerings. Just sneak them into the theater in your pockets or something.
Recommendation: I recommend this film with the simple assumption that you enjoy laughing at movies, and laughing at a lot of different things. Humor runs the gamut from rib-tickling slapstick to dialogue that’s at once self-aware and self-depricating. A film based in such a remote location usually always feels like a “refreshing” experience, and this certainly proves to be a byproduct of watching this one. Although it’s a fictional place, Tickle Head feels as real as any small community you’ve ever traveled through or spent time in. Come get to know these people, they’d love to meet you. And I almost guarantee you won’t regret meeting them.
Running Time: 113 mins.
Quoted: “Who here has a case of creeping Athlete’s Foot. . .? Frank?!”
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