“Salmon Fishing in Yemen” – Review by Laurie Coker

Fishing appeals to me, only if I am guaranteed a catch. Unlike my son, my mother and many others, I presume; I find the sport a bit dull. Still, I do understand the appeal, especially in something like fly-fishing, where one can commune with nature, enjoy the quiet and engage in sport of patient man versus fleeting fish. On another note, friend of mine told me she wouldn’t attend the screening of ‘Salmon Fishing in Yemen,’ because of the “stupid title,” but I know dozen’s of films with seemingly wacky titles that are quite good – take ‘The Squid and the Whale,’ ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ and ‘I Heart Huckabees’ as cases in point. I loved the premise and the curious title of the film ‘Salmon Fishing in Yemen,’ in spite of my apathy towards fishing, so I went with an open mind and walked away, wholly pleased.

The film stars Ewan McGreggor and Emily Blunt. He, Fred Jones, a dotty fisheries expert, she,  Harriet Chetwode-Talbot, a pretty and determined consultant for a wealthy sheikh (Amr Waked) who wishes to bring a river and salmon fishing to the desert in Yemen. With an unlimited amount of monetary resources at her disposal, Harriet seeks the assistance of Fred, who thinks the entire thing is a waste of his time and wholly improbably. Enter, the Prime Minister’s overzealous and determined press secretary (Kristin Scott Thomas), who sees the venture as a feel-good means to get her boss reelected, and Fred finds himself working hand in hand with Harriet to make the impossible, possible. A jerk of a boss, a strained relationship with his wife, the pushy press secretary, a quixotically seductive sheikh and the determined Harriet, all drive Fred, who normally considers himself quite sensible, to embark on a venture that seems insurmountable, if not utterly ridiculous.

Simply put, ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,’ offers an engaging and entertaining cast. McGregor provides us with the perfect bumbling, bright professor and he plays wonderfully off of Blunt who embodies Harriet Chetwode-Talbot, in a way that her character’s name implies. But it is Scott-Thomas who shines! She is wonderful in this – sheer perfection. Her performances – whether in French or with a British or an American accent – always amaze me.  McGregor, too, impresses me here, because nerdy Fred is not his typical character. Almost Asperger-esque in mannerisms (there is even a joke regarding this in the film), Fred hardly seems the romantic, but he, with the help of the sheikh and Harriet, finds his inner idealist.

Director Lasse Hallström makes full use of her creative and talented cast, but screenwriter Simon Beaufoy’ adaptation of Paul Torday’s novel (which I have not read) doesn’t quite live up to the caliber of the cast. However, I enjoyed the affair overall. In fact, just hearing the sheikh speak of fishing and the way he connected it to a serenity and peace, made me want to give the art of fly fishing a try. Although, I feel certain, I’d fail miserably. I even took pleasure in the side stories, where Harriet’s fledgling (three whole weeks) relationship is challenged by her new beau’s military deployment and subsequent missing in action report, and Fred’s tightly-wound wife venturing off to another country on a job – convenient, yes, but not wholly unsurprising in terms of outcome. Okay, so I lie a little here, I predicted almost every twist and emotional tug, but then I see many, many films.

My friend may be right; the title is a bit odd and lackluster and may keep people away from the movie, but it inspired me to go, not exactly curious about how anyone might potentially fish for salmon in a desert, but more looking for a deeper, metaphorical meaning to the title. Ultimately, the film plays out pleasingly (maybe not so metaphorically) – sprinkled with sweet morsels of wit and love-story missteps. It is really these tidbits that make the film so enjoyable, made all the more palatable by its leads (and even minor characters) and the fish – the glorious salmon whose path (from foreign waters to desert) swim though and connect otherwise unconnected characters in a cute and even inspiring little tale.

It really is too bad that ‘Salmon Fishing in Yemen,’ rated PG-13 (for minor scenes of violence, sexual situations and language), did not come out closer to Valentine’s Day, because it would have made a far better offering than say ‘This Means War,’ but I am hoping word-of-mouth, will get it its due. I am placing an A- in my grade book. I enjoyed it!

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