Gentle, charming, indie comedies. This is an oft-abused, difficult-to-master art form. Do you even know how easy it is to mess up while attempting to make one of these things? It’s easier to ruin than an adaptation of a beloved fantasy novel. As such, when people get it right, and hit every note with delicate precision, they not only deserve considerable lauding and a hearty pat on the back, but apparently also some recognition on the Internet’s most beloved rooster-themed movie review blog.
The Grand Seduction (2014)
The Plot: The sleepy little Nova Scotia harbor of Tickle Head has fallen on some hard times. The fish-stocks are dwindlin’ and the shoals hard tae find, as the kids say. Tired of living on welfare checks, the good people hope to attract a chemical waste reprocessing plant so that they can all have steady jobs again. Unfortunately, the company refuses to build a factory in a town without a fulltime resident doctor. Murray (Brendan Gleeson), a man who loves his roots and his home more than anything, leads the effort to seduce a hotshot young plastic surgeon Paul (Taylor Kitsch) to establish a permanent practice in Tickle Head.
Does that not sound like a charming premise for a gentle indie comedy? Of course, Tickle Head has nothing to offer a rich urban plastic surgeon, so Murray and his neighbors execute a series of increasingly elaborate lies to seduce Paul. These range from fairly innocent lies like pretending to share his tastes in music (jazz) and sports (cricket) to reprehensible ones like, for example, exploiting the fact that Paul never knew his father by pretending that Murray lost his son several years ago to form a type of surrogate father-son relationship. On top of that, this type of movie always has a somewhat predictable resolution. SPOILER ALERT: the victim of the lie eventually learns the truth. Didn’t see that one coming. Somehow, though, despite having the clichéd plot of a she’s-out-of-my-league romcom, The Grand Seduction manages to avoid ever feeling derivative (although it draws some obvious influences from Local Hero, but that’s hardly a complaint).
Lying is wrong. Always. It’s as simple as that. The only time lying is not wrong is if it is to a border patrol officer regarding cheese. Otherwise, it’s wrong. Inevitably, the biggest challenge of this type of movie is convincing the audience not to hate the lying characters. This usually comes with the restoration of normality, when they admit that they have done wrong and apologize, but The Grand Seduction does a bit more. It helps that this is an incredibly funny movie. The comedy is both natural and clever; they never elbow you in the ribcage or wink at the camera (in a metaphorical sense, obviously); the humor is just innate and, remarkably, character-driven. Ideally, all comedy would be driven by strong characters, you know, like dramas, but we don’t live in that world. It’s like all the best con movies: if the con artists are likeable and the situations hilarious and some sort of morality eventually wins out, how could we possibly object? What I’d really like to see next is a movie about smuggling exotic cheeses over the U.S./Canadian border. Some day.
Comedy aside, what makes The Grand Seduction a truly wonderful and memorable film is its unwavering sense of purpose. Though never addressed in dialogue, only the most oblivious viewers could fail to notice the mean age in the harbor. Of its tiny population of under two hundred, Tickle Head boasts perhaps ten residents under the age of forty, with most inhabitants in their sixties or older. The subtext of the film laments the dwindling population of rural societies. In a heavily urbanized, exhaustingly busy world, this way of life is disappearing. The film operates as a kind of eulogy for or perhaps ode to tiny communities where nothing goes unappreciated and people work hard for their keep and, in general, everything has a meaning. The characters all recognize that their traditional lifestyle is gone; they can’t fish anymore, not enough to sustain themselves and their families. Attracting the factory is hardly the ideal solution for anyone, but it’ll do if it means they don’t have to abandon their beloved home.
A part of me wants to say that this is an incredibly Scottish sentiment, and since Nova Scotia is an incredibly Scottish place, I think I can get away with that (despite the film’s high-profile Irish actors and their pseudo-Canadian accents). I didn’t want to end on a downer note. The Grand Seduction is a funny, charming movie with well-rounded, likable characters, a clever script, and a great sense of heart. It’s also available on Netflix instant, so watching it shouldn’t be too difficult. If you are ever in the mood for anything I just described, check out this movie. It’s an excellent way to either bid farewell to 2014 or beckon in the New Year.