Bottom Line: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a charming dramedy fishing for a sufficient plot.
Directed by: Lasse Hallstrom
Starring: Amr Waked, Catherine Steadman, Conleth Hill, Emily Blunt, Ewan McGregor, Jill Baker, Kristin Scott Thomas, Rachael Stirling, Tom Beard, Tom Mison
It’s an odd title, I understand, but quit gawking at it as if it has three heads. It serves a purpose to the whole film. A title like SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN catches my eye; it’s the sole reason I was so curious about what the film might entail. It wasn’t until after finally watching it and devoting a moment of thought that it that I realized how just the simplistic way in which the title so peculiarly yet beautifully flows, represents the similar substance you’d find in the film. It’s a quirky film that acts naturally. It’s lighthearted and fresh, but there’s not very much quirk beyond the story. Also similar to the title, the story this British dramedy speaks is entirely original and unique. It goes so far with its unusual atmosphere that it would take a very long time to seek down a film that shares so much as fifteen percent of the tale’s blood. However unique the story itself may be, there isn’t much elaboration to prohibit the script from wandering in search for a way to fill a feature-length narrative.
SALMON FISHING tells us the story of a wealthy sheik (Amr Waked) who finds a deep, peaceful connection between the titular sport and faith, and wishes to bring salmon fishing to his native country, the Republic of Yemen. “Faith and fish,” he says. His consultant (Emily Blunt) speaks to Dr. Fred Jones (Ewan McGregor), Great Britain’s leading fishing expert, about the project. Although he finds it absurd, when the idea is brought to the Prime Minister’s secretary, Jones feels pushed to involve himself in permitting the sheik’s vision to happen. Once those events have passed, the film is only a half hour through, give or take five minutes. We become excited to know what happens during the rest of the plot, but much of it is time devoted to trying to find a way to proceed. I’m usually against the technique, but a simple “deus ex machina” right around the forty-minute mark could have greatly improved. Think of it as someone who has aptitude with catching a salmon but has difficulty cooking it. He hooks the salmon in the water quickly, just as SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE writer Simon Beaufoy grabs a hold of the plot in the very beginning and has the viewer’s immediate attention. He goes home to cook the fish, and the plot proceeds for a little while. The fisher places the salmon on the stove and keeps it at the correct temperature, but removes it far too early. What he’s left with is an undercooked salmon, just as we are left with an undercooked plot.
Due to much of the rest of the film, SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN isn’t wholly undercooked. There is a sense of delicious entertainment that seems to permeate the surrounding plot. In a sidebar story, the dramedy presents a growing love between the characters of Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor. Usually, “second story romances” are one of my biggest cinematic pet peeves, but the idea worked surprisingly well, at a subtle, well-acted, believable standard that was no distraction from the more significant plot. The film, though perhaps lacking in the dramatic area it needs to achieve, has a sweet, charming sense of humor, one that sets the mood, evokes a chuckle every once in a while, and adds a hint of enthusiasm into the film. Though SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN is nowhere near perfect, it presents what I love best about sports-oriented films. It makes me care about the subject matter, despite my critical dislike for the activity. But that’s in its beautiful feeling, not its lackluster presentation.