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By Patrick Kirkland · May 22, 2014
In the 90s, before Jason Biggs got frisky with an apple pie, there was a string of romantic comedies that simply made you feel good. This was the time of My Best Friend's Wedding, While You Were Sleeping, Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral and Doc Hollywood – and honestly just about any Hugh Grant movie.
Don McKellar's The Grand Seduction fits right in this category. It's a simple story: When Murray French's (Brendan Gleeson) wife and neighbors leave the harbor of Tickle Cove to find work, he sets out on a quest to bring a factory to town, and with it, jobs. The only problem? The factory won't move to a town that doesn't have a doctor.
When the unlikely candidate and big city doctor Paul Lewis (Taylor Kitsch) lands in their lap, the townsfolk rally together to seduce him into becoming their permanent physician.
Feel familiar? Sure, swap Taylor Kitsch for Michael J. Fox and Newfoundland for Grady, South Carolina, and you've got the equivalent of Doc Hollywood. The only difference is that instead of the Doc being the protagonist, it's the mayor and his town.
One particular sequence, in the beginning of Act 2A, feels lifted straight from the Michael J. Fox film. On his first day of the job, Doc Lewis is put through ridiculous, yet charming tests when he examines the town's "sick" – which is almost everyone with any kind of ailment. Athlete's Foot fungus that works it's way up to a man's knee. A woman's grocery list of ailments for her multiple children, along with a last minute request for the Pill. It's not a far leap to Michael J. Fox jumping on his desk after a black widow has been set loose. Or fixing an old woman's blindness by simply cleaning her glasses. The sequence works, and it is funny, but there's no way getting around the history.
Though the story is simple, it's refreshing to see such a straightforward comedy in a time where everything has to be so damn complicated. And where the script, written by Mike Dowse and Ken Scott, fails in originality, it more than makes up for in solid structure, dialogue, and fantastically charming characters.
Gleeson's Murray French is a liar, a cheat, and extremely lovable. For whatever lie he tells, he does it for the good of the people. After a long marriage, he's still very much in love with his wife, following closely behind in cute jealousy when he sees her talking to another man. And for all the trouble he puts the Doctor through, he really does want Lewis to believe the town of Tickle Cove may just be the most perfect town on God's very green Earth.
When the inevitable happy ending comes – and you rarely question that it will – you are moved by it because you've fallen in love with the characters over the last two hours. You want the Doctor to stay in Canada. You want the factory to be built. And for all his faults, you want Murray to succeed in bringing his wife back home. But more than that, you want all of Tickle Cove to have jobs and stick around, if only because it seems like the world is a better place with Tickle Cove in it.
We don't see these types of films much anymore. Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant, Sandra Bullock – they've all moved on to films with three or four story lines. Because of that, my recommendation is to enjoy this one as much as you can.