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Seducing Doctor Lewis

As long as there are quirky waterfront villages in the world, there will be movies like Seducing Doctor Lewis, with city folk learning the simple life from sharper-than-they-look bumpkins. Seducing Doctor Lewis—the top-grossing movie of 2003 in its native Quebec—draws strongly from genre benchmark Local Hero and the TV series Northern Exposure, but director Jean-François Pouliot and screenwriter Ken Scott let cutesy eccentricity steamroll poignant humanism. Even the soundtrack is filled with one of those jaunty accordion-and-clarinet scores that announces at every second how life's a goddamned carnival.

David Boutin plays the title character, an amiable but morally weak surgeon who gets in trouble with the law and is sentenced to a month's community service in the crumbling fishing community of Ste. Marie-La Mauderne. Not coincidentally, the people of Ste. Marie-La Mauderne are trying to convince a plastic-container concern to build its new factory there, but they need to have a doctor in residence for at least the first five years of the contract. So the Maudernians, led by grizzled, determined Raymond Bouchard, set about learning all they can about Boutin in order to make their town the doctor's ideal. When they find out he likes cricket, they learn how to play cricket, and when they find out he likes avant-garde jazz, they ask a jazz-hating local musician to pretend he's an aficionado.

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There's comic potential in the film's premise, which has a whole community remaking itself in one man's image, but Scott and Pouliot go too broad too often. Why have Boutin like cricket and jazz instead of baseball and R&B? Because cricket and jazz are weirder and easier to mock. It's the same reason officious town banker Benoît Brière has to have oiled-back hair, a sweater-vest with a bow tie, and glasses: It makes him look nerdier, and more removed from his neighbors.

To the film's credit, Brière's character is deepened some as the story plays out, and the filmmakers don't let the town off the hook for being spies and liars. But in their attempt to make rural life look magical, Scott and Pouliot dehumanize their characters, substituting quirks for true individuality. The groupthink behind the townspeople's plan is a dead giveaway: Who would have guessed that such a heavy majority of exurbanites would want to spend the rest of their lives making Tupperware?

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