Being a fan of all things action, I can be, and usually am, very picky when it comes to comedies, which, frankly, I blame primarily on lack of quality comedy films in the past few years. Understandably, it’s much easier to use the same flat lines of dialogue or fart jokes over and over again than try going for something deeper than that, but the result is always the same – the decrease of interest and overall negative perception of that genre.
Which is why finding a film that is both funny AND smart is like finding a true gem.
There are movies that make you feel uneasy for days after you saw them for no apparent reason. Yes, I’m looking at you, The Quiet Ones! It gave me so many creeps I still shudder just thinking about it. And then there, of course, are movies that make you feel like home.
With the movie theatres being stuffed with major blockbusters, it is easy to overlook something like The Grand Seduction – a film with a not particularly complicated plot and the cast being in their mid to late 60’s that takes place in a small fishing village in the middle of nowhere. What’s so exciting about that, you ask? Well, everything!
Welcome to Tickle Head, a small fishing village nestled in one of the harbors of Newfoundland. Population: 120. Average age (estimated): 60. Job offers: none. After the new laws basically destroyed the fishing industry in the area, all the villagers can do is collect their welfare cheques and reminisce about good days long gone. And then ‘the light at the end of the tunnel’ appears – a big industrial company seeking for a place to build their petrochemical processing plant. Except it’s not that simple – for this contract to be signed, the town needs to have a local doctor. And who in their right mind would agree to move to Tickle Head?
After the Mayor of Tickle Head takes off for St. John in the middle of the night, not able to handle the situation any longer, there isn’t much hope left. Until a plastic surgeon Dr. Paul Lewis (Taylor Kitsch) is caught in the St. John airport with cocaine… by said Mayor who landed a job at the airport security and is sent to Tickle Head instead of being arrested.
Back at Tickle Head, Murrey French (Brendan Gleeson), an activist and the new Mayor, preps everyone for the arrival of the doctor. They have exactly one month to make him fall in love with their harbor and sign a long term contract to ensure the construction of the plant. There’s a lot to be done – from making the village more presentable to learning to play cricket, Paul’s favorite sport, which no one gets and everyone sucks at. On top of that, Murray arranges for Paul’s phone line to be tapped into so that they could learn as much about him as possible, thus creating the kind of life he wouldn’t want to walk away from.
Simple enough, you’d think. The problems, however, began when the villagers started getting attached to Paul and feeling bad about scheming and lying. On top of that, the corporation asks Murray and the village for a $100,000 ‘assurance’ – aka bribe – to secure the contract, putting the local ‘human ATM’ Henry (Mark Critch) in a very bad position. He could either forge the documents to help Tickle Head, or try doing it the honest way, which wouldn’t get them anywhere because who would lend $100,000 to 120 unemployed people?
For a while, everything seems to be going fine. Until it doesn’t. First, Paul learns that his fiancé has been cheating on him with his best friend, which, for a moment, shifts his mood about leaving Tickle Head. The audience holds the breath. What is he going to do? Well, he decides to stay, but by that point Murray feels too bad to let that happen so he lies to Paul, saying they found another ‘long-term’ doctor. Okay, that was kind of noble. Not as noble as coming clean, obviously, but let’s appreciate small gestures one at a time.
Paul packs up and is about to leave but not before sorting the things out with the local post office girl Kathleen (Liane Balaban) who was against the scheme from the start and who, according to Murray, was secretly in love with Paul. Sick of the lies, Kathleen tells him the truth. Ouch!
Needless to say that the company reps choose this exact moment to come over to sign the contract.
The resolution is sweet. Paul is rightfully pissed but after Murray’s profound apology he decides to stay in Tickle Head. The plant is built and everyone has a job again, even Henry who was replaced with an actual ATM after all. Murray’s wife, who had to leave Tickle Head to work in St. John, comes back, and the relationship between Paul and Kathleen is “in progress”. Also, it made me want to move to Newfoundland ASAP.
The Grand Seduction, first premiered at TIFF 2013, just the Delivery Man released in 2013, is a remake of a French-Canadian film La Grande Séduction that came out in 2003. To say that it was delightful would be to say nothing. Yes, it may not be as grand and flashy and over the top as the majority of Hollywood films but it has its own charm and…
Let’s talk about how great comedies don’t get proper recognition because they attempt being smart instead of going neck-deep into fart jokes or sex jokes or naked people walking around.
We keep dumbing down films (and books, come to think of it) because we assume that the society nowadays is unable to comprehend and process anything that is more complex that a tea spoon, which, in its turn, leads to society and average audience being more into cheap laughs and flat jokes instead of compelling and meaningful storytelling. If it wasn’t the case, we wouldn’t have to deal with such ‘successful’ franchises as Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey while the true gems of literature and cinematography collect dust on the shelves, unnoticed by pretty much everyone.
I’m sure that more people went to see A Million Ways To Die In The West and Sex Tape only because both were purged by Hollywood and starred slightly more recognizable actors than The Grand Seduction, which contained surprisingly little amount of sex jokes and naked people per minute. It also had very few smokin’ hot people (except Taylor Kitsch who is swoon-worthy), so who cares about awesome plot, strong character arcs and a killer dialogue?
My main concern here is that if keep on doing it year after year after year, in about 2 decades or so, the society will inevitably turn into a bunch of Beavises and Buttheads, unable to communicate in anything but one-syllable words. We’re already 2/3 there, and the idea of steadily moving in that direction is frightening, to say the least.
The Grand Seduction wasn’t perfect, of course, and there are issues that could have been addressed better – like the honest to god economic issues and unemployment, affecting every part of the country, not to mention corruption and the sad truth about people being easily replaced by equipment and the small communities become extinct because they can’t sustain themselves.
I’ve also heard a number of complaints about lack of proper development of the relationship between Paul and Kathleen that seemed to have made quite a jump in the end, which I have mixed feeling about. From the storytelling point of view, I do agree that there could have been a better arc to take the characters where they found themselves at the end of the film. They basically had 3 or 4 short scenes together in a 2-hour film, and it was hard to see the sparks flying even if they were, in fact, interested in each other, which they weren’t for the most part. On the other hand, The Grand Seduction wasn’t a romantic comedy, and pushing that angle would take the focus off of the main storyline of the film, thus diminishing its value. I do agree, however, that it was a waste of Liane Balaban’s acting talent, although I also think that the romantic storyline wasn’t necessary at all since it didn’t really contribute to anything.
It is your job and duty, however, to look past all the pieces that don’t quite fall into place and enjoy the scenery, the quirky characters brought to you by undoubtedly brilliant actors and the sweet story that will leave you with a smile and at peace.