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Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2012)

March 15, 2012

 

written by: Simon Beaufoy (screenplay) and Paul Torday (novel)

produced by: Paul Webster, Nicky Kentish-Barnes & Samuel Hadida

directed by: Lasse Hallström

rating: PG-13 for some violence and sexual content, and brief language

runtime: 112 min.

U.S. release date: March 9, 2012 (limited) 

 

Don’t judge this film by its title, I had to read it a couple of times too to figure out what it could possibly be about. Automatically, another movie title came to mind – “Snakes on a Plane”- which also bluntly communicates what the audience has in store for them. These are movies for people who want it all spelled out for them, I guess. While that horror comedy’s title seemed to go for laughs, director Lasse Hallström’s (“The Cider House Rules” and “Chocolat”) new film, a romantic dramedy (that’s comedy/drama) starring Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt, sounds more like an instructional how-to book, more than a movie. Maybe that’s because the film is an adaptation of a comic novel, with the same title (there we go), by Paul Torday.  While the title didn’t hook me, I took the bait when I saw who directed the film and was lured by its two leads. I can’t promise that will be the last of the fishing puns.

Sheikh Muhammed (Amr Waked) of Yemen desires to bring his love for fishing to the barren valleys of his country’s Highlands. He has the means and a plan, but what he’s relying on most is his faith. Faith in his spiritual views of fishing and faith that a monumental task such as making his land habitable for salmon imported from the UK to thrive, could bring unity to his people. To do this though, he’s going to need help. Such help comes in the form of Ms. Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) – what a name! – the Shiekh’s resourceful real estate consultant located in London. To see the Sheikh’s idea come to fruition, she must cast a net (oops!) to see who will be able to support such an impossible task.

When word reaches the office of the Prime Minister about the Sheikh’s goal, Press Secretary Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas) runs with it, stating, “We need a good story from the Middle East that doesn’t involve explosions!”. She immediately contacts the British Department of Fishing and demands that a specialist be assigned to assist Ms. Chetwode-Talbot in this endeavor. Much to his dismay, Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) a reluctant and tightly-wound fisheries expert is given the job. At first he laughs it off, throwing all kinds of outrageous demands and expensive requirements, hoping to scare off the Sheikh. It doesn’t faze his royalness or Ms. Chetwode-Talbot, and soon Dr. Jones’ cynicism is washes away by their can-do spirit and next thing we know they’re getting assistance from the engineers that designed the Three Gorges Dam.

 

 

Through various trips to the Highlands, the business relationship between Dr. Jones and Ms. Chetwode-Talbot develop into an old-fashioned meet-cute. It’s obvious. We know this. It’s inevitable. But, is it predictable? Not entirely. The difference here is that both characters are committed to someone else. Dr. Jones appears to have been married for some time, but his relationship with his wife (Rachel Sterling) is void of any real feeling, one that is based on repetition and acceptance than it is any passion. One gets the idea they’ve become more focused on their careers over the years, rather than cultivating any kind of growth in their marriage. On the other hand, Ms. Chetwode-Talbot (as Dr. Jones insists on calling her) had just begun a relationship with a British soldier (Tom Mison), who was suddenly called to serve in Afghanistan. They’d only been together for about three months, but it seemed like it could develop into something good.

What does that prove, exactly? Well, it makes these two feel like real people instead of the typical rom-com characters audiences are subjected to over and over again. They have decisions to make, life situations to consider, as they come closer to thinking about the other person being a possibility.

While there are elements to screenwriter Simon Beaufoy’s script that are mishandled and glossed over, Hallström’s film is still an enjoyable viewing experience. That’s primarily due to the engaging performances of the two leads. Although Kristen Scott Thomas is a hoot at first, her politico role becomes disappointingly one-note in the end. At least McGregor gets to play a fussy-at-first character, who has a reasonably believable character arc, while Blunt is undeniably lively and fun to watch. Regardless how silly the overall story is and despite the feeling that the novel is probably better, these two actors are still a joy to follow.

“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” harkens back to those old romantic comedies with Hepburn and Stacy or Kelly and Grant, where the actors start out at odds yet somehow manage to let their guard down and give the other a chance. That’s how I felt watching this. After seeing so many films lately with such heavy subject matter, it was quite pleasing to throw my line in with this movie. Ah, there I go again.

 

 

 

RATING: ***

 

 

 

 

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