The townspeople of an economically distressed fishing village in Quebec go to extraordinarily lengths to persuade an M.D. to settle in their midst permanently in this cheerful feature from Jean-Francois Pouliot. “Seducing Doctor Lewis” is reminiscent of a long line of self-consciously whimsical pictures, mostly English, about eccentric local communities acting in concert for some joint purpose–movies like “Tight Little Island,” “Passport to Pimlico” and “Waking Ned Devine”–but this time the characters speak French.
Ken Scott’s script is set in Ste. Marie-la-Mauderne, which isn’t well-named: modern it most definitely is not. A cutesy opening sequence shows how the place has declined from a happy past with a hard-working population to the depressed town it is now, whose males line up every month for their government welfare checks. Even the mayor leaves to take a position as a traffic cop in Montreal. The person who usurps his office is Germain Lesage (Raymond Bouchard), a fussily inventive oldster who immediately plots to entice a businessman to build a new factory in Ste. Marie to revivify the village. But there are complications. The town selected for the plant has to have more than 200 inhabitants, which Ste. Marie does not. The businessman demands an up-front $50,000 bribe. And most problematic of all, the town has to have a resident doctor–something Ste. Marie has lacked for many years. Germain addresses all these with the help of two buddies, a grizzled old coot named Yvon (Pierre Collin) and Henri (Benoit Briere), the nervously nerdy manager of the local bank branch. By far the biggest hurdle involves attracting a doctor, which they manage to do–with the help of their old mayor. The result is that young Dr. Christopher Lewis (David Boutin) comes from the big city for a month on a community service assignment, and the townspeople use every trick they can muster to persuade him that it’s where he belongs. They tap his phone to find out his preferences (even keeping track of his love life back home), leave money for him to find, arrange for him to catch fish although he’s a terrible angler, play on his familial needs, and even pretend to all be cricket fans, since that’s Lewis’ favorite sport. The only resident who doesn’t join the charade wholeheartedly is the lovely Eve (Lucie Laurier), the town postmistress, who inevitably catches Lewis’ eye. Of course, in the end Germain and his cohorts regret bamboozling Lewis, going so far as to encouraging him to leave, in spite of the dire consequences that might have for Ste. Marie. Naturally, though, things turn out just dandy and the village is reborn, doctor, factory and all.
“Seducing Doctor Lewis” obviously suffers from a serious case of the cutes–the beginning sequence makes that abundantly clear, and the rest of the picture affirms it–and it runs out of gas in the last twenty minutes, when the script goes for too many twists and the sentimentality quotient approaches dangerous levels. But Scott proves fairly inventive in coming up with variations on the theme, Pouliot keeps up a sprightly pace, and the cast is more charming than not, even if some of them–like Briere–go for very broad strokes. The result is clearly manipulative, but like an elongated, French-speaking episode of “The Andy Griffith Show,” it mostly manages not to be cloying. Viewers searching for an old-fashioned crowd-pleaser–especially, but not only, those over retirement age–will find a good deal to enjoy, if they don’t mind reading the sub-titles.