In its heyday, Tickle Head, Newfoundland, was a proud fishing harbour. Men rose before dawn, took to their boats and trawled the north Atlantic for fish, only returning after dark, hands red raw and bodies weary. After a good square meal and a little fun between the sheets with their wives, they slept soundly, safe in the knowledge that they worked hard, were respected and put food on the table for their families. Life was simple but it was dignified…
The men of Tickle Head are now awoken by the purring of their ginger Tom well after daybreak and, instead of following their forefathers’ footsteps to their boats, they stroll to the post office to collect, and then the bank to cash, their fortnightly welfare cheques. They collect a lot more than government money, though; with it comes shame – and something needs to be done about it. Pride, identity and self-worth need to be restored.
A deal for the installation of a petrochemical re-processing plant – whatever that may be – in the tiny community hinges on signing a doctor full-time. They need jobs and the factory will provide them. Thus begins the grand seduction, or rather deception, of the film’s title.
A bearded Brendan Gleeson plays the charming, misleading but well-intentioned ringleader Murray French. Spurred into action after his wife leaves to work “in town” (St. John’s), he takes the bull by the horns and garners support from the hundred or so residents to go along with ‘the plan’. Partners-in-crime are the willing Simon (Gordon Pinsent) and not-so-willing Henry (Mark Critch).
The unsuspecting mark is Dr. Chris Lewis (Taylor Kitsch) – party boy from the big city, cricket aficionado, ladies man, all-round bon vivant and curry fan. The three local amigos, with help, set about convincing the young man that Tickle Head is the greatest place on earth to call home. Cricket, previously known only as a small noise-making insect, becomes a part of harbour lore, buildings are painted and World Heritage sites created – all before the all-important doc’s arrival.
The charade that ensues is lighthearted good fun. Murray, who forms a genuine bond with fatherless Chris, does suffer momentary tinges of guilt at lying to the young doctor but these are superseded by the needs of the community. An audience is more than happy to heartily roar along with the hilarity and ridiculousness of it all.
Unlike the harbour’s new found love for the game of cricket, the jokes do not feel forced or contrived and flow naturally from the warmth and charisma of a tremendous cast. Pinsent is effortlessly deadpan, bemused, half-drunk/asleep most of the time and could very well be making the script up as he goes along. Critch’s Henry is rather awkward, also bemused and impotently frustrated by the ever-decreasing importance of his job at the bank. Liane Balaban plays aloof love interest Kathleen but isn’t offered a great deal to work with other than meaningful looks, initially of disdain they melt to something a little less hostile as time wears on. As you would expect, Gleeson leads the line well and plays Murray as a character who simply wants to do whatever is necessary to bring jobs, and his beloved, back to Tickle Head.
Visually, The Grand Seduction is an ode to Newfoundland and the beauty of Atlantic Canada. Only intermittent rain showers break the calm sea and blue sky. There’s no fog or violent storm to deal with – which, let’s face it, is rare in this part of the world – but such a tempest wouldn’t be right for this romp of a film. Director Don McKellar isn’t doing anything groundbreaking here; and it won’t be nominated for an Oscar, but who cares? His film is the equivalent of a warm blanket or cup of hot chocolate before bed. It is comforting, easy fare. It is not a grand film, but you will be seduced by its likable, genuine East coast characters and the beauty of its picturesque setting.