The isolated fishing village of St. Marie La Mauderne has fallen upon hard times, with almost all of its 125 residents subsisting on welfare. The Mayor, Réal (Jean-Pierre Gonthier), floats a tax exemption deal to gain a factory, but insurance demands they have a resident doctor. Réal himself leaves, tempted by policeman's wages in Montreal, but when he stops a speeding plastic surgeon in possession of cocaine he remembers his former constituents. Back home, new mayor Germain Lesage (Raymond Bouchard) rallies the village in the common task of "Seducing Dr. Lewis."
French Canadian television vets Jean-François Pouliot and his writer Ken Scott make the umpteenth film indebted to Bill Forsythe's never-topped "Local Hero," but the charm of their remote, boardwalked seaside village and the skill of star Bouchard keep their effort from feeling false. This pleasantly rambling tale offers nothing new, but has enough heart and humor to keep the viewer pleasantly engaged.
The film opens with a fairy tale piece of whimsy that has Germain remembering his blissfully happy childhood, when his parents Rolland (Guy-Daniel Tremblay) and Simone (Nadia Drouin) toiled through fourteen hour days to earn their fish dinner before the entire village engaged in noisy lovemaking followed by a smoke. In the present Germain is only slightly better off than his friends due to the second welfare check he receives for a man the government hasn't realized is dead. When his wife Hélène (Rita Lafontaine) is offered a mainland job by her brother, Germain's masculine pride whips him into action.
Paying off his bribe, Christopher Lewis (David Boutin) chugs into the harbor and is astonished to see a team engaged in his favorite sport - cricket - on a cliffside. Unbeknownst to him, the team is a ruse, one of many cooked up by St. Marie La Mauderne to convince Lewis to stay beyond his thirty-day trial. When that red letter day approaches, Germain realizes that the man they have befriended will feel betrayed by their lies, and so offers yet another one to let him go.
Of course, it will be no surprise as to how everything works out, especially since Scott's script neatly destroys Lewis's ties to the big city, but the comical endeavors of the villagers make getting there amusing. There is cleverness afoot when the wily welfare recipients use their forebears fishing equipment, the oars from their boats, to fashion cricket bats and when the problem of an ugly house at shoreline is turned into a heritage site advantage. The doctor's phone is tapped so that his every wish can be fulfilled. A mention of beef stroganoff becomes that evening's special in the simply named 'Restaurant' and talk of caressing his girlfriend's foot makes sandals the female villagers' footwear of choice. The lovely postmistress Eve (Lucie Laurier, "Don't Say a Word"), meanwhile, cuts the doctor's advances short with reminders of his Montreal girlfriend. In parallel, Germain courts Lewis's jealousy with rumors of his 'replacement.'
As the titular doctor, Boutin is rather bland, but his character is symbolic of the fish he is so inept at reeling in. It is Raymond Bouchard who is the comic ringleader, ably supported by St. Marie's cast of characters. Pierre Collin is his best buddy Yvon, a character who would have been played by the late Michael Jeter in the American remake. Yvon is made to carry out Germain's stunts, like hooking a frozen fish at the end of Lewis's line. Genie (Canada's Oscar) winner Clémence Desrochers plays Yvon's wife Clothilde as well as Hélène's partner at eavesdropping. The two women's hilarious reactions to Lewis's phone calls are one of the film's highlights. The film's best scene, a comic masterpiece, features Bouchard, Collin and Desrochers in a middle-of-the-night consultation about which the less said the better for the viewer. As one of the town's few employed, Benoît Brière ("Stardom") is the put upon bank manager who must make a defining decision in the face of his worst fears and Brière makes the little man quite sympathetic.
Pouliot evokes the small town mentality of a remote location (the film was shot on Québec's Harrington Harbour Island) and knows exactly how to time verbal and visual punch lines, but he cannot shake the hovering presence of the superior Scottish film (not to mention shades of "Doc Hollywood") with another tale of seaside villagers looking for monetary gain by conning a city slicker. He even borrows visuals, like townsfolk streaming quietly out of their church meeting place while a visitor is distracted in the foreground, from Forsythe's film. The folksy accordion and guitar score by Jean-Marie Benoît ("Jésus de Montréal") adds a decidedly French flavor, though, and the Scot's whisky is washed away by the ever present Canadian predilection for beer.
Pouliot's trickiest achievement is that he sidesteps the manufactured quirkiness that have sunk so many efforts from "Waking Ned Devine" to "Saving Grace." "Seducing Dr. Lewis" is slight, but holds delights.
Robin did not see this film.
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