In the late 1950’s, Hertel Avenue was the home of Mastman’s Delicatessen and the Sample Shop, but it has never looked as much like Brooklyn as it does now—and in a good way. The gorgeously renovated North Park Theatre has exit signs done in leaded glass and an old-fashioned ladies’ lounge with a marble fireplace. The place has a look that rivals Rochester’s Little Theater, but without the lemon squares.
In the 1950’s, the North Park Theatre was a Saturday afternoon venue for films that drew bunches of kids walking there on their own, and the place is still family-friendly. A small sign on the ticket booth reminds buyers that little kids need tickets, but follows that line up with a reminder that buying tickets for them is cheaper than a sitter. Besides, the popcorn and candy prices are reasonable.
Now showing is The Grand Seduction, but the advertising for it, unfortunately, may be that, too. As soon as a local fisherman—more than enough grizzled and mussed up—started thinking about a cricket team as a way to entice a young doctor there, memories of “If you build it, they will come” came a bit too fast. But that wasn’t the only too-vivid reference. Watch the trailer here.
Still Mine, a 2013 favorite, also did the “grown-ups still passionate about each other” character development, and alas, did it better. And there is more: The Grand Seduction mirrored another theme of Still Mine, also, which was based on a true story of the ordinary, maybe-unschooled-but-shrewd-man against the establishment.
In Still Mine, the aging-well Craig Morrison, played by veteran actor James Cromwell, builds a house for his aging-not-so-well wife, played to a natural perfection by Genevieve Bujold. Their characters both maintain their very classy look throughout—his straight posture and her strand of pearls-- a match for the elegant view she will have in the new place. Building on his own land with his own lumber to specifications that outdo those of the actual town inspectors and even in possession of the required permit, Morrison is the target of a rule-conscious minor version of Inspector Javert.
This is not to say that The Grand Seduction doesn't have fine, if derivative, moments. A wonderful riff on just this kind of tension is implicit in it. Here, the wily fisherman assumes the town leadership after his much-loved wife packs up and takes off for a job in town, along with the mayor and family.
Like Morrison selling his metaphorical baseball story to the local judge, the wily fisherman takes a page out of his competitor’s book. Rigging up a tape while the young doctor is on a month’s trial visit, he has his phone conversations recorded to find out how to keep him there. The young doctor needs a father figure? He gets one made possible by cozy fishing trips in the cove, even with a first catch stealthily hooked to his line in the depths.
Sure, there are the requisite scenes of a line out the door to see the new doc—reflecting innumberable hackneyed television shows-- but since it is really a catch and a dad that he wants, these fisherman aren’t above making his unspoken dreams come true just to keep the doc there. They know how to catch a fish, and it isn’t by just angling a line in the water.
More fun for viewers: the local banker, all too aware of the video on the wall opposite his desk; the lovely and available postmistress, who could try out successfully for a part in The Music Man or Carousel; and the salt-scrubbed buildings that look as if they were erected yesterday for this film. It is all very lovely, but it all feels contrived.
Still, there is a message in the neighborhood that brings us back happily to the Field of Dreams' “If you build it, they will come.” Hertel Avenue is doing that, too.
Linda Chalmer Zemel teaches in the Communication Department at SUNY Buffalo State College. She also writes the Buffalo Alternative Medicine column.