Monday, June 16, 2014

The Grand Seduction

I was intrigued by the Rotten Tomatoes rating on this new Brendan Gleeson starrer The Grand Seduction, because it had an 81% audience rating but a mere 61% rating from critics. I'm not always on the audience's side on these splits, especially when there's no obvious political slant that would entice critics to be extra-critical.

On the surface, the story seems harmless enough: Murray (Gleeson) is an out-of-work fisherman who is trying to lure a doctor to his small town so that a company will build a factory in his little village—wait, no, it's not a village, it's a harbor, that's an issue here—so that the unemployed and depressed folk of Tickle Head (Newfoundland, Canada) can get to work again with pride.

Did you catch it? The little tip that might make a politically leftist critic dislike this movie?

Actually, there's a bunch: Tickle Head residents file in monthly for their welfare checks, but this doesn't make them happy. Oh, and why are they on welfare? Well, they can't fish because of environmental regulations! And they have to trick the doctor into signing a contract to stay there because socialized medicine!

Oh, and Murray's wife leaves Tickle Head for a job in "town" (Ontario?) which she ends up hating—and it's sorting recycling. And the factory they're trying to get in Tickle Head? It's a petrochemical by-product repurposing plant.

Not that there's any great love for the oil company behind the factory, and there's a sardonic quality to the proceedings that makes it seem like "well, the last resort is to work this way" but it's noteworthy that it's presented as being preferable to collecting welfare.

That's the underlying message, after all: Not a political one, just a truism about honest work being better than just about anything else.

Even if you have to lie, cheat and steal to get it.

Heh. The gimmick of the movie is that the entire town, in order to seduce the doctor, has to be part of an elaborate plot of being his dream town. To that end, they investigate him, they tap his phone, the pretend to like things he likes, and Murray goes so far as to pretend he had a son who died, about the same age as the doctor.

They also lie to the oil company, the bank, and anyone else who gets in their way.

I mean, in any cold analysis, it's reprehensible, but director Don McKellar (best known for being an actor in...uh...Canadian stuff) pulls of a neat trick: He makes the townspeople likable despite this, and transforms the doctor (played by John Carter himself, Taylor Kitsch) from a shallow, unlikable jerk to a sort of lovable patsy whose shallowness masks a naive, even sweet, gullibility.

The intervening hijinks are quite amusing, meanwhile, and the movie passes rather breezily to a satisfying conclusion. The Flower, who is a tough critic, enjoyed it, as did The Boy and I.

There are some excellent bits here, as well: For example, the doctor loves cricket, and the villagers pretend to be cricket fanatics, too. But unlike almost every other sport in the world, cricket isn't something you can fake an understanding of easily, much less a love of a game that runs six hours and over the course of multiple days.

From a dramatic standpoint, there's a nice touch with what should be the love interest. In a typical Hollywood film, Kathleen (Liana Balaban) would start by hating the doctor and the scheme, but begrudgingly go along with it, then fall in love, and that would be what would make the whole deception okay, after a tearful confession.

Here, while she plays a pivotal role, she's barely in the movie, which focuses primarily on the connection between Murray and the doctor. I liked that because I kind of think it's nonsense to think you can start a relationship with an elaborate ruse (I mean, apart from standard dating elaborate ruses) and then recover it with a tearful confession.

So, while not exactly great, this is definitely more toward the 80% than the 60%, and worthwhile viewing.

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