Don McKellar’s Grand Seduction

A couple of weeks back on Cube Critics, I mentioned to Stephanie the Movie Maven how a film which opened just with sound of waves washing on a beach had transported me. I’ll admit it was a bit of a tease. I wanted to talk about the experience rather than the movie, which wasn’t going to open for a few weeks. I didn’t give it’s name.

Of course, we got emails.

People wanted to know about this transporting film.  Well, it’s “The Grand Seduction,” which opens in the Twin Cities this weekend.

It’s the story of the once proud Newfoundland fishing community of Tickle Neck which has been laid low by  time and circumstances. The cod moratorium has beached the boats, and almost everyone in the tiny port now depends on a welfare check. The locals, led by mayor-by-default Murray French,  learn the town may land a petrochemical plant and much needed jobs — if they have a doctor. Knowing it’s going to be a hard sell, they enter into a convoluted, and hilarious, scheme to attract a physician.

When I told director Don McKellar about how the wave sound transported me, it really pleased him.

“The appeal of a film like this is feeling like you are in that location,” he said, “knowing that it’s real, knowing that those are really the people who live there, those are the landscapes, no CGI landscapes, that’s the real ocean.”

While “The Grand Seduction” is a comedy, its serious underpinnings attracted McKellar.

The movie is a remake of another Canadian film, the 2004 French language “La Grand Seduction.” It became “Se

Don McKellar, director of “The Grand Seduction” (Image courtesy Entertainment One Films)

ducing Dr Lewis” for the English-speaking market.

As sometimes happens, someone wrote an English version, which ended up on McKellar’s desk. He liked it immediately.

“It had a kind of classic comedy, the likes I hadn’t seen for a while,” he said. “This social comedy in the sort of lineage of Preton Sturges and the Ealing comedies. And it also had at the heart of it something authentic.”

McKellar liked the way it captured the spirit of Newfoundland, but represented the challenges of life in other small communities.

“It’s not unique to that place,” he said. “I mean, it could be set in Minnesota with a paper mill town of something like that, but certainly it had this specificity that I thought resonated.

“I hope people recognize the value of preserving these isolated cultures that are in danger now. All over the country there are people who are not seeing this touted recovery, and recognize the ethical compromise that we are forcing on these people who want to work and want to have some dignity.”

The port’s inhabitants (they are very clear it’s a port, not a village) all become involved in the campaign to convince Dr Paul Lewis (Taylor Kitsch,) a cosmetic surgeon who has had an unhappy brush with the law, that he should relocate to Tickle Neck.  Meanwhile Mayor French is wooing oil company executives to nail down a contract for the promised the facility and the jobs it will provide. It’s a house of cards which French finds increasingly difficult to keep balanced.

Central to the success of the film is Brendan Gleeson in the role. McKellar knew he had to have a particular kind of person playing the mayor.

“When I had this vision of Brendan with his Irish looks and his beard, and his girth, I thought ‘That is the look,'” McKellar recalled.

“Brendan, as well as being an amazing technical actor, really has a heart,” he said, adding that Gleeson always displays an innate empathy.

“Even when he is playing a horrible character — as he often is,” the director said with a laugh.

McKellar surrounded Gleeson with a cast filled with Newfoundlanders, including Gordon Pinsent. They got a badge of approval recently when they showed the film in Newfoundland and Gleeson’s accent won praise.

Now “The Grand Seduction” is opening in the United States. McKellar’s desires for the film are  simple: “Well, I hope people laugh,” he said.