Hollywood is remake crazy. It seems like every other week, a studio is releasing a new version of a seminal twenty-year old film. It is getting a bit out- of- hand because the timespan between original and remake seems to shrink every day. The only reason many of these films are being remade is to give a new hot actor or director some material to work with, because, presumably, they can’t come up with anything original. At least they are remaking more mediocre films, giving the people behind these new works some room to improve upon the original. Hollywood seems to have learned its lesson about remakes of classics.
Usually, when a foreign or independent film catches on – makes some money, earns some critical acclaim – it is only a matter of time before the film is remade by one of the studios. Attaching an American star to a remake gives the producers an opportunity to play thousands of screens, instead of dozens.
Now, foreign film makers seem to be getting in on the act. Last year, a very funny, slightly off-base French Canadian comedy called “Starbuck” was released. The story of an adult slacker who finds he fathers hundreds of children as a sperm donor was quickly remade by the same director as an American film, “Delivery Man” starring Vince Vaughn and Chris Pratt. Now, a little known or seen French Canadian film called “Seducing Dr. Lewis” has been remade as a little known or seen French Canadian film called “The Grand Seduction”. Really, the only difference between the two films is “Grand Seduction” is in English and has slightly more recognizable actors. Oddly, the original film was also called “La grand Seduction”, the name of the film changed for the U.S. release. Why remake a film that is only ten-years old? Someone seems to consider the story rich enough to warrant a revisit.
The town, …er, small harbor of Tickle Cove is in dire need of a doctor. When Dr. Paul Lewis (Taylor Kitsch, TV’s “Friday Night Lights”, HBO’s “The Normal Heart”, “X-Men: Origins – Wolverine”) is sent to Tickle Cove, to serve his probation, the townspeople rally and try everything they can to make the town seem like a great place to live, seducing the doctor into signing a long-term contract. If this happens, they will be able to win a contract for a new factory, providing work for the dying town, securing the future of the people who stubbornly refuse to leave the quaint village. Murray French (Brendan Gleeson), the new Mayor, spearheads the operation and they quickly set up a surveillance operation to spy on the doctor and to learn anything and everything they can, to make Tickle Cove the ideal place to live. Murray even talks to the local post mistress, Kathleen (Liane Balaban), and hints that it might be good for the little village if she were to flirt with the young doctor a bit. Simon (Gordon Pinsent, “Away From Her”) is Murray’s ‘friend’, if either ever dared to call their relationship that, they seem to barely tolerate each other, so he is at Murray’s side throughout. And they enlist the aid of Henry Tilley (Mark Critch), the local banker. A key part of the plan involves monitoring the young doctor’s phone calls back home to his girlfriend; two elderly women listen to every word and relay the information back to Murray; when they learn the doctor likes an obscure Indian lamb curry, the one restaurant in town begins to celebrate the dish offering it as a special. And so on, and so forth.
Written by Ken Scott (writer and director of “Starbuck” and “Delivery Man”, and writer of the original “Seducing Dr. Lewis”) and Michael Dowse (writer-director of “Take Me Home Tonight”) and directed by Don McKellar (a Canadian television actor who has also directed a few films), “The Grand Seduction” creates a unique little village and explores the lives of these Quirky (yes, capital Q) characters. It is a well-made, if unremarkable film.
Each of the characters is right out of the Quirky Casting Guide, but what makes this film work is this is only the starting point. Once they are introduced, most are given more depth, making them more interesting and fun to watch. Brendan Gleeson plays Murray, a man who has grown up in this hamlet, it is the only way of life he has ever known, and he isn’t willing to give it up. When the current Mayor leaves to get a job in the big city, Murray takes over and continues the operation to secure the factory contract. Gordon Winsett plays Simon. Simon has never, ever left the little hamlet; it is even more important to him, that this little village continue to live, so he helps Murray, always at his friend’s side, trying to help him in any way. Two of the elderly women who live in the town man the surveillance station, recording everything Dr. Lewis says on the phone. Everyone is fun to watch and it is fun to learn their little secrets and little idiosyncrasies, but none of them is all that original. The people who lived in Cabot Cove were more original.
But the film has a pleasant, sing-song way of introducing the characters and you get a real sense of their history, giving them a little more life than they might have in a less well-made film. Because of these moments, the film has a fairy tale quality.
When Dr. Lewis’ services are secured for a month, the townspeople set about improving their little hamlet, to make it more desirable to the big city doctor. Kitsch (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, HBO’s “The Normal Heart”, TV’s “Friday Night Lights”) is good as Dr. Lewis; from the big city, he doesn’t seem to have the stereotypical arrogance many big city people when they visit television and film small towns. He seems to appreciate and grow to like the townspeople and its many charms. So often, big city folk enter a small town and immediately begin to wonder why anyone would live in such a hell hole. Thankfully, this is not the case. While Lewis does acknowledge the big city is different, he seems to accept the differences. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Murray is pushing everyone to change and his surveillance program is helping them to learn everything they can about him. But Lewis gradually seems to realize he might have found a place to settle in to.
“Seduction” veers close to slapstick when the townspeople court the corporation looking for a new home for their factory. Some of the shenanigans they get into are similar to something you might see on a television sitcom. But these moments are easy to overlook because the parts depicting the interactions between the townspeople are much better.
“The Grand Seduction” is an enjoyable film, sure to generate a couple of smiles.