Movie Review – Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

At this point in the history of film, I believe it really is too much to ask for plot originality with romantic comedies. As I’m pondering rom-com plots, I’m afraid we have Jane Austen to blame thank for these rehashed plots. You have the couple that meets each other and hates each other on sight (Pride and Prejudice), the couple that is kept apart because of another woman (Sense and Sensibility/Mansfield Park), the woman that doesn’t need a man thankyouverymuch until someone else shows interest in him and she realizes she loves him (Emma)  and the premature breakup with a reconciliation after years apart (Persuasion). These plots, in Jane Austen’s hands, were great. Unfortunately, they became the Energizer Bunny Plots when 20th century filmmakers got their hands on them, and the money that inevitably rolls in from each successive remake of the same story. And, I’m not talking about all the remakes of Austen’s original work, though the analogy fits for that, as well. So, walking into Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, I knew what was going to happen in the end. The question was how fun would the ride be in this setting (the Yemen, duh) with these actors (Ewan MacGregor, Emily Blunt, Kristen Scott Thomas) and this director (Lasse Hallstrom). The answer? Pretty darn fun.

The originality of the setting, as quirky as it is, helps and luckily Hallstrom doesn’t waste a lot of time with fishing scenes. It is curious, though, that only the male characters fish, with no explanation given as to why Emily Blunt and Kristen Scott Thomas’ characters don’t don some unflattering waders and give it a go, too. With rom-coms, the key for success is casting and in that department, Hallstrom gets an A+. Emily Blunt is a great romantic comedy lead – beautiful in a girl next door way, with the ability to make the men next to her look better instead of her beauty casting an Everest sized shadow on everyone within reach.  Ewan MacGregor is one of his generation’s great actors but he rarely gets the notice for it. He just keeps on giving good performances in a variety of roles and movies. Blunt and MacGregor’s chemistry is subdued, perfect for the story, making the movie all the more believable for it. The best performance of the movie goes to Kristen Scott Thomas as Mrs. Maxwell, the Prime Minister’s Press Minister. I imagine Scott Thomas getting this script and rubbing her hands together in delightful anticipation of the scenery she would get to chew.

I must take a moment here to praise the film for its handling of Islam and faith. I haven’t read the book so cannot speak to how prominent a role the Shiek’s faith takes in the original story, but in the movie it is ever-present but not overpowering. The sheik is devout but he isn’t militant, nor does he preach to Dr. Jones (MacGregor) when he’s told Jones is not religious. The sheik is comfortable with his faith and is comfortable with, though skeptical of, Jones lack of religious faith. The movie also makes a subtle point that you can have faith that isn’t centered on a deity, which is interesting in and of itself. In fact, the Christian God is never referred to once, nor is Allah. It’s a balance that somehow the movie pulls off without offending anyone.

If you’re lucky enough to have Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (★★★) playing near you, go see it. It’s a sweet alternative to the blockbuster bombast of The Hunger Games.

Other Thoughts:

  • I was the youngest person in the 11:25 showing this morning. I’m not sure if that has to do with the time I chose to go or with the demographic of the movie. I’m guessing a bit of both.
  • Near the end, I almost yelled, “Malcolm!” when I saw a long time MI-5 actor as the Deputy Prime Minister who has to fake an interest and ability in fishing.
  • Something I noticed: during the scenes when Jones and Chetwode-Talbot (Blunt) are drawing closer, they dress in similar colors. That is how I knew, visually (and, duh, this is a romantic comedy), she would choose Jones in the end.
  • I had to stifle a laugh every time Blunt said, “Dr. Jones.” I kept thinking MacGregor was going to put on a fedora and start hunting ancient artifacts. MacGregor does, at one point, wear a white straw fedora. Inside joke, maybe?

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