A golden-hued fable about downtrodden workers debasing themselves for their new corporate masters, The Grand Seduction is also a never-ending exercise in forced whimsy that begins and ends with the sounds of struggling blue-collar folk humping away their pain as though they were earthbound seraphim celebrating paradise on earth.
Brendan Gleeson plays Murray, a down-on-his-luck fisherman shuffling along in the dying Newfoundland harbor of Tickle Head. One day, Murray — who, like the perpetually overcast sky, is a big, lumpy, quietly threatening part of the region's climate — thinks he can turn everything around and rescue his welfare-check brethren by convincing a large corporation to open a petrochemical-repurposing factory there. According to Murray, the factory jobs will restore everyone's dignity and sense of purpose, especially if they never stop to consider where any of the factory's industrial waste runoff will go.
There's one problem, though: Tickle Head doesn't have a doctor in town, and the company won't set up its factory without one. Enter Dr. Lewis (Taylor Kitsch), an improbable plastic surgeon and naïf who, on his way through customs, is busted with some cocaine by the harbor's former mayor. In exchange for his freedom, he's sentenced to spend a month as Tickle Head's general practitioner. Dr. Lewis' whims and eccentricities are catered to as soon as he arrives. Indian cuisine, fishing expeditions, ersatz father figures, even a pretty young lass — the harbor dwellers present them to him with a sneaky, phony righteousness we're supposed to find resourceful and endearing.
The film's charms are meager. There are too few naturally unnatural comic moments like the scene when a distraught, fully-clothed Murray climbs into bed with his friend Simon (Gordon Pinsent) one evening, and Simon dismisses his wife's worries about a threesome by saying, "Aw, now, he doesn't drop by that often." That's funny. So is the scene where an entire bar has to feign enthusiasm about cricket for Dr. Lewis' benefit when what they really want to do is watch some hockey. There's precious little romance, too. When scanning this batch of sycophants and sociopaths, Tickle Head's fetching young postmistress (Liane Balaban) seems like the only honorable human being, but she's kept off-screen and away from this pinup-handsome medical professional in a clear and willful violation of numerous romantic-subplot bylaws.
By overplaying the idiocy of the yokels and underplaying their thoughtless selling-out, The Grand Seduction's appalling ideological underpinnings rise to the surface. It doesn't mean to be, but it is much more interesting as a movie about power and greed than a comedy about a pretty place. And its similarity to Bill Forsyth's 1983 masterpiece Local Hero is so distracting that when the businessmen alight from the sky late in the film, I prayed for the ghost of Burt Lancaster to step out of the helicopter.
Whether it wants to or not, The Grand Seduction ends up validating Toshirô Mifune's remarks about Japanese peasants in Seven Samurai: "They pose as saints but are full of lies! If they smell a battle, they hunt the defeated! They're nothing but stingy, greedy, blubbering, foxy, and mean! God damn it all! But then who made them such beasts? You did!"