For a movie with a title as strange as they come, I didn’t know what to expect – a drama, a comedy, a documentary? The whole concept seemed wholly absurd, and the sparsely populated theater gave me doubts about what I was getting myself into. But, from the moment the movie began, I was hooked (pun lamely intended). From the stellar acting and the beautiful landscape shots, to the impeccably witty writing and laugh-out-loud comedic delivery from the cast, this movie slid its way into my favorite romantic comedies of all time. While I don’t want to over-promise, and while there were definitely some issues that I will address, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen far exceeds the expectations set in my mind for what a romantic comedy should be.
Sheikh Mohammed’s (Amr Waked) vision is to achieve a better life for his people through the implementation of agriculture to the desert. Through his consultant, Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt), he hopes to find someone who can make his dream a reality.
Ewan McGregor stars as Dr. Alfred Jones, a British fisheries expert whose life appears to be as mundane as yours or mine. His life is turned upside down in an attempt to help repair Anglo-Arab relations after a bomb explodes in a Middle East mosque. Through a series of events, he is approached by Harriet to achieve the unfathomable: introduce fly-fishing to the Yemen. He is met with expected and unexpected challenges, both in his work on the project and in his personal life. Though an expert in his field, Fred, a master of fact, must learn the importance of faith – and in more ways than one. As he begins to grasp at the concept of faith with the help of the Sheikh, his trust in both faith and science are tested.
Faith plays a heavy role in the movie, though not in a pushy, up-in-your-face kind of way; which is really refreshing. Instead, it is presented as a force by which we all live our lives – how we face the improbably and seemingly impossible challenges life throws our way. And, trust me, this movie does a bang-up job of portraying the realistic challenges that “normal” people face; not the fake, surface issues that most romantic comedies rely on to fill the theater. This alone sets Salmon Fishing in the Yemen apart from other movies that could be thrown into the vast “rom-com” genre.
In addition to the plot, this movie has a lot going for it that makes it work seamlessly; however, there were definitely a few things that didn’t work, or could have worked better. There is a lot of text on screen, as well as montage images of computer screens with email communication going back and forth from various characters. At the beginning, I felt like it could have completely bombed and become over-done (somewhat of a You’ve Got Mail feel); however, director Lasse Hallström uses the shots sparingly, and in a way that moves the pace of the movie along by cutting out a lot of unnecessary dialogue.
The one strong complaint I have with this movie is with the technique used to transition during various scenes. Multiple times, lengthy shots of swimming salmon and bubbling water were used to transition in and out of scenes, when in fact, it wasn’t really necessary. It almost felt as though they were used to remind the audience about the fish, when really, they never left our minds. In the end, it ends up feeling like a waste of screen time and comes off a little Animal Planet.
Thankfully, the good in this movie largely outweighs the bad, in almost every aspect. First and foremost, the writing (screenplay by Simon Beaufoy) gave this movie the dimension it needed to succeed in being more than the typical romantic comedy. There was rarely a moment when the dialogue felt unnecessary, which kept the pace of the movie moving along quite nicely. The smart, snappy comments and quick-fired remarks were shot off with ease by the cast, none of whom I can really criticize, as much as I would like to try.
The acting in this movie was superb, in that every actor persuaded me to believe wholeheartedly in their character by embodying them, not by simply reciting the lines from the script. Ewan McGregor (and his beautiful Scottish accent) gives a stunning performance as a middle-aged man, struggling to find true happiness. His ability to give such depth to a character that lacks a certain level of complexity is, though not necessarily surprising, refreshing to see in this type of movie.
Emily Blunt carries the role of leading lady as though she owns it. It is a pleasant delight to see her as a more likeable character in this movie, as I feel like she seems to be cast in roles that give her a harsh edge, making it harder to connect with her. Nevertheless, her success in this role makes me excited to see her upcoming comedy opposite Jason Segel, The Five Year Engagement.
Additional cast members include Kristin Scott Thomas as Bridget Maxwell – the spokesperson for the British prime minister, and Amr Waked (Syriana, Contagion) as Sheikh Muhammad. Both Thomas and Waked deliver surprisingly excellent performances, but in different ways. The character of Bridget Maxwell is used as a heavy source of humor throughout the movie, and Thomas pulls off every comedic situation with considerable ease. Her brash demeanor only makes her character more likeable, as she offsets the rest of the characters’ more pleasant attitudes. In contrast, Sheikh Muhammad is a very serene, contemplative character. However, Waked does not allow his character’s nature to control his demeanor; instead, every time he appears on screen, his figure commands the audience’s attention.
Overall, this movie really exceeded my expectations, and gave me a brief glimpse of hope for the future of romantic comedies. However, if you go into this movie expecting the fluff that the typical romantic comedy provides, this isn’t the movie for you. If you are sick of showing up the theater to watch a movie that has zero plot and could pass for an adult version of the Disney Channel movie of the week, then you will probably be pleasantly surprised – I know I was.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen – 9/10