TIFF 2011: SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN Review

by     Posted 2 years, 221 days ago

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For the past decade, seeing director Lasse Hallström’s name attached to a film hasn’t inspired much confidence. His work has ranged from middling (The Hoax) to the saccharine (Dear John) and I worried that his latest film, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, would be both. Instead, it’s a peppy, quick-witted British comedy filled with great performances, clever dialogue, and the mature development of a romantic relationship. The film staggers a bit getting to the finish line, but it’s a fun trip most of the way.

Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) is a high-priced consultant representing the interests of a wealthy and forward-thinking sheikh (Amr Waked). His Excellency wishes the bring Salmon fishing to Yemen so Mr. Chetwode-Talbot sends an e-mail to Dr. Fred Jones, a scientist working in the Fisheries department of the British government. Naturally (Ewan McGregor), he thinks the idea is preposterous and laughs off the endeavor. Unfortunately for Dr. Jones, the proposal comes across the desk of the Prime Minister’s hard-nosed Press Officer Bridget Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas) who’s keen for some kind of story promoting Anglo-Yemeni relations. Reluctantly roped into an errand he believes to be ludicrous, Jones eventually warms to the idea. At the same time, Harried and Fred begin to warm to each other even though they’re both in romantic relationships.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen doesn’t rush off to the Yemen. The first half of the film is spent watching the characters slowly build the project, their relationships, and set the comic tone. Even though the story has no problem being a little goofy, it always acts in a mature manner. Rather than send Harriet and Fred straight off to Yemen and make their relationship nothing more than “What happens in Yemen stays in Yemen,” we get to see their icy relationship gradually thaw. It also doesn’t make their partners out to be horrible shrews or provide any conscience-clearing “out”. Harriet’s boyfriend is in Afghanistan but she’s not just going to automatically jump in the sack with Fred. Fred’s unhappy in his marriage, but he doesn’t take that as the all-clear to bop Harriet. The movie takes its time and instead of rushing romance treats the audience to upbeat laughs instead.

Hallström’s smart direction matches the energy and zip of the script. His upbeat direction flows from the witty dialogue and its strong British sensibility. He’s also got great performances from his leading cast. McGregor does a brilliant job playing the stodgy and flustered scientist character we’ve seen before but he manages to make the role his own. Blunt gets to be charming and wry, but unfortunately the movie never does enough to develop her character and the story forces her character to resort to endless hand-wringing about her beau. Thomas’ role is painfully brief but she almost steals the movie as her character could have easily walked out of In the Loop. And Waked brings the film its gravitas and enough warmth so that the character doesn’t feel like he’s simply The Voice of Eastern Wisdom.

Where the film begins to run into trouble is when it has to slow down and finally bring the romantic relationship between Harrier and Fred to fruition. The development has been earned, their previous relationships have been dealt with in a mature manner, but then the story starts throwing in contrivances to keep the conflict going through the third act. I won’t spoil what the film does, but there are two separate developments, both are poorly played, and one is absolutely preposterous. It’s a shame to see such haphazard work in a script that’s smart enough to delve into the mechanics and spirit of a hobby as dull as fishing and make it absolutely fascinating.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen does so much right for its first two-thirds that we’re able to accept its stumbling finish. For adults who feel like the only comedies they’re getting are raunchy R-rated flicks, Yemen is a nice change of pace. Thanks to Hallström, the cast, and the writing, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen finds its humor without being abrasive and its romance without being too sappy.

Rating: B-

For all of our coverage of the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, click here. Also, here are links to all of my TIFF 2011 reviews so far:




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  • PatLang

    Wow, you don’t count the Hallström classics? What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?? The Cider House Rules? Chocolat? You really are useless.

    • James

      “For the past decade”. He made it pretty clear bro.

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  • Phil V

    Matt,

    I’ve spent the last 30 minutes reading your reviews of Toronto films bc someone forwarded me a link to this website. After reading, it is not only quite clear that you are a half-wit that has somehow convinced someone to pay you for writing about movies, but that your taste in film goes completely against public opinion. If you polled people at Toronto this weekend like myself who saw a number of films, you’d find that most of them (aside maybe from Shame) think the exact opposite of what you’re writing about. In this day and age, people like u become more redundant every time the public can share information in richer, more immediate ways. Why don’t you just stick to polling people or grading movies? It would be a more effective use of your brain, as you’re not such a talented writer. I hope your paychecks keep coming for the sake of the economy, but i can’t imagine being your boss and still agreeing to sign them. Good luck — hope its fun.

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  • Sabrina

    Could this movie really happen?
    http://youtu.be/-axyP9yK8p8

  • Tigerboy

    I liked “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.” Ewan McGregor is wonderful in everything he does. That sort of befuddled charm that is grating and forced when Hugh Grant tries it, Ewan McGregor does in a way that is effortless and, well, charming. He and Emily Blunt make a lovely cinematic couple. The movie does engage in some cliche political shorthand, but I kind of liked the way Hallstrom addressed Middle East relations in a post-911 world with such a light touch. The movie is full of references to the problematic issues between our two cultures, terrorism, and the wars, but it’s all done in a light comedy that is sweet, romantic, and funny.

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