In many ways, the Canadian remake The Grand Seduction (itself based on a film written by Ken Scott in 2003) is the antithesis of a modern day Adam Sandler comedy. While those films assemble massively talented casts for what’s essentially a paid vacation that the audience doesn’t get to take part in while getting treated to aggressively obvious and mean spirited comedy, director Don McKellar’s remake looks as fun for the actors as it is for the audience. It’s assuredly funny, but in a laid back, come-what-may sort of way. Sure, it has a plot that’s been done before, but its Maritime setting, a crackerjack cast, and a steady sense of pacing between comedy and realistic drama makes it a low key winner.
The former fishing community of Tickle Head, Newfoundland fell on hard times long ago and never got back up. A great deal of the island has been frustratingly unemployed and collecting welfare cheques from the government for decades in some cases. Murray, played by a commanding and warm Brendan Gleeson, is a bit of a smooth operator, and his latest scheme to return the cove to its former glory involves finding a doctor to reside in the town so they can land a potentially lucrative petrochemical treatment plant that can put everyone in town back to work. Enter Dr. Lewis (a great and against type Taylor Kitsch), a hot shot plastic surgeon and uppity cricket enthusiast, who gets busted at the airport for cocaine possession. Instead of going to prison, it’s decided that Lewis will spent 30 days in Tickle Head as a doctor in residence, during which time the town will try to lie its collective ass off to get him to stay.
So it’s essentially the premise behind Doc Hollywood, and more or less the same movie as the original but ported to the Maritimes from Quebec. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. McKellar runs a tight ship, and with Gleeson and Kitsch doing their parts in the leads roles to be as sympathetic as possible, the film’s only main villain is the impending doom of decades of poverty yet to come. They get great assists from TV veteran Mark Critch as a conflicted banker caught between doing the right thing for his job and what’s right for the community, Liane Balaban as the only honest person left in town who wants nothing to do with Murray’s dishonesty, and especially from Gordon Pinsent as a wizened, haggard old salt who has never left the cove in his life for any reason.
And if the plot and a leisurely, good natured story doesn’t get to you, the gorgeous Newfoundland settings will. It’s the best the island has ever looked on film.