Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen - Movie Review

Winner of the oddest movie title of the year goes to...

I actually thought this was a documentary when I first heard about it.  While I like documentaries, it's rare when I make time to see them in the theater.  Documentaries have always felt like something you watch at home.  However, after seeing the trailer and that it stars Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt, I realized it was just a very unusual title for what now appeared to be romantic comedy.  Contrary to popular belief, I do have a soft spot for romantic comedies and will usually see them as long as they aren't obviously cheesy up front.

The title is pretty accurate though.  The goal of the characters is to introduce salmon fishing to the Yemen.  McGregor stars as Dr. Alfred Jones, a fish expert working for the British fishery.  He's also famous, in fishing circles anyway, for creating fly fishing lures.  While he's very good at his job, he sometimes has difficulty relating to people due to having Asperger's.  Initially, he's tasked with a feasibility study for bringing salmon fishing to the Yemen.  He actually considers the idea to be ill-conceived, idiotic and the dreams of a bored, rich Sheikh.  However, he is pressed to do this by his superiors once the aide to the Prime Minister (Kristin Scott Thomas) decides they need a good PR story.

Dr. Jones then has to work with Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Blunt), who's handling the financials from the Yemeni side.  Although Jones still thinks the plan will never work, they provide him with all the resources needed.  He later meets Sheikh Muhammad (Amr Waked) and realizes that he's deadly serious about accomplishing this feat, as impossible as it seems.  The Sheikh doesn't just love fishing and is doing this as a hobby, but thinks this project will help his people and bring prosperity to the area.

The story was based on a book of the same name by Paul Torday.  I've heard that book is more of a political satire.  If that's the case, then that's kind of lost in the movie.  I think if it had been, in the vein of something like In the Loop, especially considering Kristin Scott Thomas' performance, it would have been much funnier overall.

That's not to say Salmon Fishing... isn't without it's charms.  The movie does have some nice themes regarding friendship, faith and finding love. I also thought the performances were good. Kristen Scott Thomas is probably the funniest thing about the movie.  While not nearly as vulgar as Peter Capaldi's character from In the Loop, her performance brought that to mind. Oh, and seriously, rent In the Loop (it's streaming on Netflix and Amazon) if you haven't seen it yet.  One of the funnier British films I've seen in years.

The two primary relationships, the friendship between the Sheikh and Dr. Jones, and between Dr. Jones and Harriet were touching and sweet.  It's always easier to care about what happens in a movie when you like the characters.  Emily Blunt seems to have that quality about her where she has a natural chemistry with people.  It's just like how I felt about her in The Adjustment Bureau (with MATT DAMON).  And, it's almost impossible not to like Ewan McGregor, even though he left me for dead by a lake of lava.  What am I talking about?!

Salmon Fishing..., like real fishing, starts off very slow and for a while I was having a hard time following what was going on.  That's not to say I was confused, but I couldn't get into it.  I'm not sure if there was something weird in the sound mix or the acoustics in the theater, but I just got a weird vibe from the start.  To make things even weirder, I had an unusual experience with the person sitting next to me and had to switch seats.  Once I got comfortable again was right around the time the story picked up and I started to get invested.

There are a few romantic comedy tropes used toward the end that felt a little contrived, and actually unnecessary.  It didn't completely ruin the movie for me, but considering the different nature of the film, I would have liked to see them take a few more chances. For the sake of spoilers, I won't say exactly what they did, but it isn't a spoiler to tell you that at the beginning of the movie McGregror's Dr. Jones is married and Blunt's Harriet has been dating someone for a short time.  It seems like a very unusual setup for a movie where it's clear from the beginning that McGregor and Blunt's characters are meant to end up together.

While I don't think director Lasse Hallstr√∂m did a bad job, his track history shows he's better suited with light-hearted romance and family movies.  That's clearly the kind of movie he tried to make here.  Again, it seems like a missed opportunity with the political undertones of the film, the unusual circumstances and eccentricities of the characters.  Writer Simon Beaufoy (127 Hours, The Full Monty, Slumdog Millionaire), seemed like the right guy for the job, but I wonder how much of his final screenplay made it into the film.

I thought Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was a very average movie.  The film is carried by the chemistry of Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor, but it had an opportunity to be funnier.  Having said that, it's still a pleasant movie and I enjoyed it more than I was expecting.  It's a decent date movie if you want to catch a matinee.  It's playing over at The Vine in Livermore (www.vinecinema.com) for a few weeks, I believe.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars

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