Salmon Fishing in the Yemen treads water
If The Hunger Games and The Cabin in the Woods wasn’t enough, Lionsgate now brings Salmon Fishing in the Yemen to the British shores. Sure, it may not be as anticipated or as good as either of those, but it films but it ticks the date-night-movie-people-can-safely-snog-throughout box. Adapted from Paul Torday’s debut novel of the same name by Oscar winning writer Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire), Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is largely a romantic comedy that takes a few stabs at political and social commentary. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom (The Cider House Rules, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) the film has a fine pedigree but fails become more than forgettable film fluff.
Emily Blunt’s investment consultant Harriet becomes paired up with Ewan McGregor’s fisheries specialist Dr Alfred Jones to help turn a wealthy sheik’s vision of introducing salmon to the Yemen River into reality. Thankfully, Alfred is a Scot, so McGregor has no need for his trusty American accent. The initially reluctant colleagues on this wacky venture happen to both be experiencing some relationship woes, but if Alfred’s side comes across as too anti-climatic, Harriet’s end at least injects some depth and drama to the plot. Unfortunately for both Blunt and McGregor, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’s most memorable and amusing lines are reserved for Kristin Scott Thomas’ press officer to the Prime Minister. In a script full of mild, inoffensive comedy, her character provides some acerbic edge. Still, there’s nothing here that propels Salmon Fishing in the Yemen beyond middling territory.
Were the film to stick to its literal fish out of water story, it would be a perfectly acceptable love story. As it is, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen flounders when it attempts to make a statement. Clumsy comparisons of fishing to religion and meaningless shots at the British government miss the mark, but nothing is as glaring as the attempt at depicting strengthened ties between the Anglo and Arab worlds only to diminish the film’s own efforts by resorting to some badly developed stereotypes culminating in a truly baffling “action” sequence. Riffing on the government’s manipulation of the media is fun, but does little to make up for the bum notes.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is well made on the whole and as at its best once on location in Morocco (filling in for Yemen who pulled out at the last minute over a nudity clause). For a romance, it is nowhere near as cheesy as it easily could have been, despite a leaping salmon’s best efforts. The performances are solid and Blunt is as likable as always- Dr Fred never stood a chance. Yet no one involved can make this unexcitingly titled flick rise above the modest expectations most will have going in. The few moments that aren’t immediately forgettable are the ones that are also the most absurd (and not in a good way).
It’s not that Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a bad, or even a boring, movie; it’s that it is so remarkably unremarkable. It’s neither especially hilarious nor touching. The unusual story somehow feels entirely ordinary and most of it will fade from memory before the end credits even finish. With nothing that stands out beyond its uninspiring title, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen will struggle to make a splash, even amongst its target audience. Worse still, given its strong April box office competition, it will likely end up a small fish lost in a big pond. 7/10