What do you get when you transport Tim Riggins and King Menelaus to the east coast isle of Newfoundland to interact with Moonie Pottie and other Tickelhead locals? You get an honest and heartfelt translation of Jean-François Pouliot’s La grande séduction (2003) that makes for Don McKellar’s The Grand Seduction at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.
It is a universal story with a classic, comic presence that easily translates to suit the economic and cultural position of Newfoundland as we know it, explained McKellar during a post-screening Q&A at TIFF.
The humourous and heartwarming film is set in a small fishing community whose residents line up every month to cash their welfare cheques only to go on day by day. When the opportunity to build a petroleum repurposing facility in the town surfaces, it means the town has a chance to restore their job market and their individual dignity. When the mayor responds half-heartedly by sneaking off in the night to take a job in the city, protagonist Murray French (Brendan Gleeson) is hit hard by this escape, especially considering his own wife leaves him to take a job in St. John’s. He loves Ticklehead. It’s his home and he believes whole heartedly in its people and its potential, which is why he’ll do just about anything to keep the town alive.
Murray steps up as mayor and takes on the task of convincing the big wigs that Ticklehead is the best place for the new plant. The only catch? There must be a resident doctor, and Ticklehead has been searching to fill this void for over eight years. Conveniently, the displaced mayor is working as airport security at the airport when a Dr. Paul Lewis (Taylor Kitsch) comes through hungover and triumphant, trophy in hand after a cricket tournament complete with cocaine, some of which he has hiding in his carry-on luggage. When Dr. Lewis attempts to bribe Ticklehead’s previous mayor with free plastic surgery, he ends up agreeing to spending a month in Ticklehead as their resident doctor to make up for the airport drug slip.
Murray and the locals become obsessed with humourously attempting to rig the town towards every tiny interest Dr. Lewis may have in hopes of convincing him to stay. The film’s ability to take viewers on this journey, torn between truth and necessity, is an uplifting, emotional, and a positively relatable experience.
The chemistry between Gleeson and Kitsch is earnest, encouraged by the written relationship they portrayed. It also wouldn’t go without mentioning Liane Balaban who charmed my 15 year old heart by reappearing in this east coast tale much like her role in New Waterford Girl (1999) which was also set in Newfoundland. To add that Toronto local Matt Watts and Newfoundland local Gordon Pinset were organic additions in the parts they played, and played well, would only be a start to the commending performances by their fellow townspeople; a true character study with the province of Newfoundland as their biggest and brightest star.
“We had to make sure that Newfoundland was the other character in the movie,” Gleeson explained during the Q&A after the screening. He added and emphasized that, coming from Ireland, “it was twelve thousand times better” than he’d imagined.
Kitsch felt the same about the experience. “I love [Newfoundland]… It was by far the best location I’d ever shot in and I’ve shot in a lot of locations,” he said as McKellar piped in, “Like Mars…”
It was clear, listening to McKellar, Kitsch, and Gleeson, that their chemistry spread beyond the screen and is perhaps one reason the film is so enjoyable to watch.
When asked how Kitsch chose an independent Canadian film like this one, he replied in jest, “Little do you know this was a 125 million dollar budget. All shot it studio. All green screen.” He added, “It was just the right fit. It’s rare to laugh out loud when you’re reading script,” and this laughter surely translates well to the screen.