Review: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

March 26, 2012 by  

Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor star in "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen," here reviewed by Bucket Reviews film critic Danny Baldwin.

In recent late night talk show appearances promoting Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, stars Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor have hammered the idea that the film is not as dry as the title would lead one to believe. They have insisted—undoubtedly at the studio’s advisement—that while it may prominently feature a Yemini Sheikh’s unthinkable mission to bring the cold river fish to his desert country, the film couldn’t be farther from Discovery Channel programming. They’re right about that, but just because Salmon Fishing in the Yemen takes the shape of a romantic dramedy rather than a documentary doesn’t mean it’s any less dry.

Blunt plays the businesswoman charged with carrying out the Sheikh’s wild desire – Harriet Chetwode-Talbot, whose name was, it seems, conceived for the sole purpose of sounding funny. In practice, the moniker is mildly amusing the first time one hears it, but the fact that director Lasse Hallström and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy seize every opportunity to poke fun at its length and rhythm is a good indication of just how little actually goes on in the movie. Harriet teams up with British fisheries expert Dr. Alfred Jones (McGregor), who predictably tells her that transplanting salmon to the Yemen is impossible. Equally predictably, they somehow discover a way to make it work come the final act, with a few trivial hiccups (including an attempt on the Sheikh’s life, cleverly subverted by fishing pole) along the way.

Obviously, Yemeni salmon fishing, while a novel concept—and a true story, if you’re gullible enough to believe the film’s claim—is not enough to make an entire movie about. So Beaufoy, adapting from Paul Torday’s novel, interjects a frothy romance between Harriet and Alfred. Blunt and McGregor have a nice chemistry together, but their budding relationship is handled do subtly, it verges on irritating. They stare at each other with a sense of desire the entire time, but this goes largely unspoken, mainly because Harriet already has a boyfriend (who’s off fighting in Afghanistan). The payoff is not even a kiss, but hand-holding – which is admittedly daring in its rejection of genre convention, but completely unsatisfying nonetheless. The film is so chaste that it could actually play unedited in Yemen.

There is nothing overtly wrong with Salmon Fishing in the Yemen; it’s just so utterly lacking in flavor that it’s impossible to become involved in. Surely, the material would have been adequate for a Lifetime Original Movie, designed as background noise for lazy Sunday naps. But that the producers wasted the supreme likability of these two leads and the beautifully composed frames of cinematographer Terry Stacey on such blandness was truly unfortunate. Not to mention the work of Kristin Scott Thomas, who is the film’s sole source of energy in a rare comedic role as the British Prime Minister’s hyperactive assistant – why couldn’t we have experienced this surprising side of the actress in a film more worthy of our attention?

2 Buckets

* * *

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2012, UK). Produced by Zakaria Alaoui, Guy Avshalom, Stephen Garrett, Paula Jalfon, Zygi Kamasa, Tim Van Rellim, and Paul Webster. Directed by Lasse Hallström. Written for the screen by Simon Beaufoy, based on the novel by Paul Torday. Starring Emily Blunt, Ewan McGregor, Amr Waked, Kristin Scott Thomas, Rachel Stirling, and Tom Mison. Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Rated PG-13, with a running time of 107 minutes.