Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Case for Something Fishy in the Yemen

Normally, a light rom com like Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is not really something that I would choose to see.  And it has to be said that I kind of didn't: this was a fundraising film and, in that spirit, I was happy enough to toddle along and see it.  I mean, it stars Emily Blunt, Ewan MacGregor (with his real accent, for a change, I believe) and Kristen Scott Thomas, so there were three good reasons to at least give it a go.

And a go I gave it, though about fifteen minutes in, I began to feel a little uncomfortable.  I wasn't entirely sure why to begin with.  The giant e-mail script and over-emotional reading thereof that dominated the screen for the first few scenes was annoying, but they eventually got over that and moved more into human interactivity.  But that unease continued.

And then it struck me why: all these people (besides Emily Blunt's character) were horrible to each other.  And I mean, mean.  Not in a friendly mocking kind of way, but in ways that indicated that they loathed most of the people they met every day.  

Alfred (MacGregor) has issues with his (rather unlikeable) workmates, though in the scheme of things, he does not come out looking much better (well, until a painful "pickup" scene which is just embarrassing to watch in its execution and predictability).  Outside of work, the relationship between Alfred and his wife could possibly be seen as amusingly dysfunctional, but the film tries to make the problem mainly "hers" (to keep Alfred's exterior grumpy but maintain that he has a heart of gold underneath) that, well, its not. 

Meanwhile, Blunt and her character with the multi-barrelled surname is lumbered with a glittering career, obscene amounts of intelligence and talent, loads of money, extreme beauty and style, a three week romance with her "soul mate", and a complete absence of any other sort of friend anywhere on the face of the earth (perhaps not so surprising now that I come to list her pros). 

As for Scott Thomas... well, her character is a Patsy Stone (beehive and all) government PR harpy with a family, and her whole character is a one note cow (actually, there are a few scenes with her family which do paint another dimension to her otherwise shallow stereotype).  She is obviously having a bit of fun playing a randy ball breaker, but not all of that translates into fun for the audience (well, me).

As to the story... well, its based on a true story apparently, but I am not really sure where the "true" ends and the "based" begins.  A wealthy Sheik decides to bring salmon to the Yemen so he can fish, a passion that he has picked up while staying at his beautiful lakeside mansion in the UK.  Alfred is the expert who begrudgingly tries to make this happen, and Blunt's character is the connection between them. 

There are attempts at depth: pointing out the incredible disparity between the wealth of the Sheik and the poverty of his people and the "folly" of this project in light of that difference; and of course the UK's ongoing military engagements in Afghanistan.  But while these may be in the background the whole time as the film's "conflicts", they are kept very much at bay to allow the characters to take centre stage.

I won't relate any more of the story as I don't want to totally ruin it, though I am pretty sure that some could deduce the whole plot from what I have already written.  Suffice to say that the more romantic in the audience (not me) liked it immensely, while I almost vomited when the worst of the cliches were rounded up and shoved in my unimpressed face.  I did smile once or twice, but I can't say I really loved it.

Verdict: I have to give it a bit of slack for having such wonderful actors in a fairly pleasant film, but Salmon Fishing in the Yemen did a whole lot of not much for me.  As much as the film makes the idea of introducing salmon sound preposterous, it's actually the unconvincing love stories and superficial handling of the conflicts in the film are the hardest things to take.  However, while the film insults me without rewarding me with explosions, I will still have to give it a 6 out of 10, just for Emily.


missrabbitty said...

is this a case of all the good bits being in the trailer? cos it looks like a good film.

R said...

I have to say, the trailer did make me a bit curious about the film, but it did warn me that it would be a very light romcom with a few moments of fire. Which it kind of was. I was more just surprised I found it so mean spirited - but most of the audience I was with seemed to find the film... tolerable. ;)