It’s quite possible you didn’t even realize that Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was releasing today. Despite having two attractive leads in the form of Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt the movie has been pushed too hard. In fact it’s almost been given more of an indie treatment with festival releases and a slow roll out. Maybe CBS Films didn’t think that the British movie would attract enough of a crowd since it doesn’t really fit into your standard romantic comedy form.
There is actually quite a lot going on in Salmon Fishing. I’m just not sure that the added layers to the romantic comedy always work out.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is kind of an odd duck. A romantic comedy about hydro-engineering and environmentalism that deals with terrorism and Middle Eastern issues. It’s also British, so there’s that too. Because of these many and varied focal points the film sometimes swings wildly in one direction and then the other. At one moment you seem to be watching a lighthearted romance and then the next you’re concerned that terrorists are about to make the movie really, really sad. I suppose not knowing which way a movie is going to take you should be applauded in this day and age, but at points the film gives too hard a yank in the opposite direction and you find yourself a bit uncomfortable.
That’s not to say that the movie isn’t charming for the most part. Hell, with Blunt and McGregor being all good looking and British it would be damn impossible for the movie not to at least be slightly endearing. Thankfully both actors are quite endearing and play off each other incredibly well. Blunt plays Harriet, who is tasked by a very wealthy oil Sheik (Amr Waked) to bring Salmon to Yemen so that he may fish. She finds contacts Dr. Alfred Jones (McGregor) who works for the British government doing water things and thanks to the Shiek’s money and very ambitious press secretary for the Prime Minister the two begin to attempt the impossible by bringing Salmon to Yemen.
Of course both of them fall for each other, but Dr. Jones is in a troubled marriage and Harriet is getting over a whirlwind romance with a solider she believes died in Afghanistan. Meanwhile the Sheikh is under attack by extremist who believe that he is trying to ruin Yemen by bringing in western culture. You can see how things could look like they’re getting pretty dark as the story unfolds. Most of the film however is pretty lighthearted with McGregor and Blunt bantering wonderfully about how to actually get Salmon into a river in Yemen. It’s just when it does go dark it almost goes too dark.
Another issue is with the character of Sheik Muhammad who is written as such a non-stereotype that he becomes a stereotype. Too perfect and giving he is a philosopher, philanthropist and model Muslim all rolled into one. It’s the kind of character that is written to show how understanding we are that there are different cultures, but meanwhile forgets that said good people are still people with flaws. In all seriousness though I’m probably asking a bit too much. He is a secondary character and in his perfectness offers up some fantastic lines and thoughts. Again there’s a strange dichotomy between the rom-com character and one who is clearly much deeper.
The question is do these contradicting parts make the film bad, and the answer is a definitive no. While you’re never quite sure where the movie is swinging at least it is swinging. Most films of this ilk fall neatly into genre conventions, but Salmon Fishing in the Yemen actually tries to break some boundaries and be different. Does it always work? Not really, but it works enough that I’m glad they tried.