Cozy, picturesque and soothingly reassuring, “The Grand Seduction” plays like a cross between “Doc Martin” and “Local Hero,” a fish-out-of-water fable set within a fabulously scenic backdrop, against which wholesome humor and a thoroughgoing humanist streak play out and intertwine with gentle, unforced ease.
Of course, the aforementioned “Local Hero” — Bill Forsythe’s brilliant comedy of dislocation that came out in 1983 — is still unmatched for sheer atmosphere, acuity and heart. But “The Grand Seduction” makes for a pretty fair successor. The story of a tiny fishing village in Newfoundland that tries to hoodwink an American plastic surgeon into becoming the town doctor comes by way of gifted Canadian filmmakers, including co-screenwriter Ken Scott (“Starbuck”) and director Don McKellar (“Last Night”).
The great Brendan Gleeson — who resembles a ruddier Steve Earle as Murray, the bearded fisherman who masterminds the doc plot — and Taylor Kitsch, playing Paul, his unsuspecting mark, develop a warm, amusing chemistry in the course of a story that lilts its way toward a far too pat happy ending. Kitsch, who can currently be seen in HBO’s outstanding movie version of “The Normal Heart,” is particularly impressive as a handsome, somewhat shallow pretty boy who comes to love the run-down but gorgeous settlement where he treats everything from creeping athlete’s foot to nasty cuts and scrapes.
As appealing as the two leads are, however, the true stars of “The Grand Seduction” are the local oddballs and characters who conspire to keep Dr. Paul in their clutches, staging an elaborate game of cricket (his favorite sport) and even listening in to his calls home to ascertain his likes and dislikes. The trope of small-town-quirk may be so hackneyed that it begs to be retired permanently, but Scott — working with fellow screenwriter Mike Dowse — keeps the self-conscious cutesy-ness to a gratifying minimum.
McKellar, for his part, errs on the side of underplaying the inherent adorability of “The Grand Seduction,” which results in occasionally slack pacing but also lets the jokes unfold at their own unhurried and ultimately very funny pace. The laughs don’t come rat-a-tat-tat, but cumulatively, as the good people of Tickle Cove go about tarting up their town, planting money for Paul to find, earnestly offering him the cocaine they think he’s craving (“We’re down with it!” Murray helpfully informs him) and pretending to like jazz.
The subtext to it all is that a group of dispossessed men — fishermen now forced to rely on welfare checks, an ambitious young doctor whose values have gotten out of whack — rediscover their sense of identity and purpose, in this case by way of a plot development that not every viewer will find particularly salutary. Still, even with the odd misgiving or two, “The Grand Seduction” will effortlessly charm anyone susceptible to an endearing story told with modesty, wit and unprepossessing sweetness. Seductions don’t always have to be grand in order to work.
★ ★ ½
PG-13. At Landmark’s Bethesda Row Cinema. Contains some suggestive material and drug references. 112 minutes.