Jean-Francois Pouliot is probably tired of seeing his feature debut likened to Local Hero and Waking Ned Devine. It strikes me though that this is an enviable problem to have, especially if you happen to be someone who has directed television commercials for so many years that you’ve come to accept the fact that you probably will never have a motion picture to your credit and then, out of nowhere, you’re presented with a brilliant script and asked to direct the movie to be made from it.
Let’s face it: That’s pretty good company to be in with your first film. And Seducing Doctor Lewis more than merits comparison to those classics. The picture tells the comic story of a remote fishing village whose one hundred or so inhabitants find themselves adrift between the past and the future. In the old days, the residents of Ste. Marie-La Mauderne worked 14 hour days in their boats then made their way home to eat hot meals and fall into happy beds. They weren’t rich but they took great satisfaction in the jobs they did. Hard times have fallen on the tiny community, however. Its waters have been depleted and its men have been reduced to charity cases. Rather than congregate at the docks, they stand in line to pick up welfare checks at the ramshackle post office. Then they wait in line to cash them at the bank. They are in no danger of starving or losing their homes. What they are losing is their self respect.
Which prompts the village’s motley movers and shakers to take drastic action. The mayor has just snuck off to join the highway patrol. A retired fisherman by the name of Germain (Raymond Bouchard) takes it upon himself to fill the void and heads up an effort to convince a plastic container company to build a factory in the town. All he needs is $50,000 for a bribe and a doctor who will take up full time residence. Given that the bank is a one-man operation and that the town banker (Benoit Briere) is one of the men who want the deal to go through, the money’s not the problem. The hitch is there isn’t a medical professional in all of Quebec willing to move to Ste. Marie-La Mauderne.
A ray of hope bursts forth from the flashlight of a highway patrolman (the village’s erstwhile mayor) one night when a speeding young man from Montreal is pulled over and found to be in possession of a small amount of cocaine. As fate would have it, he is a doctor-a plastic surgeon. A deal is struck keeping him out of jail and sending him to the physicianless village for 30 days. All its citizens need to do in that timeframe is make him fall so madly in love with the place that he can’t bear to leave at the end of the month.
Here’s where the similarity to Local Hero and Waking Ned Devine comes into play. As in those films, the crux of the comedy involves a concerted effort by rubes to put on over on city slickers. The villagers in Seducing Doctor Lewis prove as resourceful as they are free of scruples when it comes to their mission. They tap their guest’s phone without a second thought, for example. This allows them to listen in on intimate conversations between the surgeon (David Boutin) and his girlfriend. When he mentions how much he misses her beef stroganoff, the dish magically appears on the menu of the town’s one restaurant. When he waxes about his fixation with her feet, the women of the village suddenly begin wearing open-toed shoes.
“Hey, everybody likes to find money,” one of the scheming locals suggests at a strategy session, “It makes them feel lucky.” Sure enough, Dr. Lewis becomes accustomed to stumbling across bills conveniently pinned beneath stones, never giving the coincidence a thought. When he expresses a desire to catch his first fish, Germain takes him out in his boat and his best friend, waiting in scuba gear underneath it, attaches one fresh from the freezer to the young man’s hook. When the doctor’s joy gives way to curiosity as to why his prize is so ice cold, Germain tells him “It must have come up from the very bottom.”
The script by Ken Scott offers a wonderfully inventive mix of gags, colorful characters and insight into the human condition. In addition to being entertaining as hell, Scott’s screenplay is the thing that distinguishes the movie from Local Hero and Waking Ned Devine. In those films, goodhearted yokels try to separate big city visitors from large sums of cash. In Seducing Doctor Lewis, the yokels don’t want free money. They already get free money every month from the government. What they want is the opportunity to make an honest living and they’re willing to play fast and loose with the truth for a little while if doing so will help to bring that opportunity about.
There are some deep truths in there with all the laughs. Some impressive performances too, not to mention Pouliot’s gifted, at times even poetic, direction. I guarantee the picture will surprise you. As the holidays draw near and theaters fill up with Hollywood’s Oscar contenders, a small movie like this could easily get lost in the shuffle. That would be a shame. Don’t let the shoestring budget and unfamiliar names deter you: This is a doctor you should see.