Although it’s a French-Canadian production, Seducing Doctor Lewis is in the tradition of British comedies like The Full Monty, Waking Ned Devine and Calendar Girls: films about average folk who get into some kind of comical fix because they need money. It’s a type of film that can be traced back to the much sharper and altogether wittier films made by Britain’s Ealing Studios a half century ago — but the contemporary counterparts have a tendency to be excessively cute.
This time, the comical commoners are the inhabitants of a very small (population just over 100) former fishing village in Quebec where everyone seems to be on welfare. Their one hope of salvation: A company that manufactures plastic containers is considering building a factory on village property, a prospect that will guarantee full employment, renewed pride and general bliss (one of the movie’s odder jokes is the equation of employment with sexual potency … even if it’s just a drudge job making plastic containers).
There’s a catch (of course). Before the factory can be built, the town must have a regular full-time doctor. Through a set of complicated plot machinations, the town ends up with the services of young Dr. Lewis for exactly one month — but the villagers hatch an elaborate scheme to “seduce” him into staying permanently. It’s not a bad premise, and much of the humor of the film is derived from the absurd lengths that the villagers go to in order to make the doctor happy, like pretending that the whole town shares his rabid enthusiasm for cricket, when, in fact, none of them quite knows what a wicket is.
One of the more inexplicable elements of the film is the woman who works at the post office, handing out the welfare checks every month. She’s a dark beauty who stands out so starkly amid the potato-faced regular folk of the town that she seems to have wandered in from another movie, perhaps some Italian neorealist drama about lusty peasants in the Po Valley. More likely she was plopped into the story to give the young Dr. Lewis a love interest, but with all the other shenanigans going on, the affair never really gets off the ground. Which is the problem with the whole movie: There’s a chuckle here and there, but it’s too faithful to the well-worn formula of mixing the antics of homegrown eccentrics with a slathering of sentiment, and it never really takes off.
In French with English subtitles. Opens Dec. 10 at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills). Call 248-263-2111.
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].