By Jordan Magrath
In the “Romantic Comedy” genre, movies must push the envelope to get noticed as anything other than slight. Although “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” doesn’t have a drastically different narrative, it proves that having realistic characters may be the key to creating a story that isn’t all the face-palmingly terrible.
“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” is a film about, yes, salmon fishing in Yemen. The problem is, salmon don’t exist in Yemen. Through the work awesomely named Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) and the “luck” of a Public Relations-needed stunt, her wish to get salmon to Yemen is granted. The lead scientist behind the project, Fred Jones (Ewan McGregor), is skeptical of the validity and usefulness of such a mission. Through his experiences planning and executing the project, he learns a lot about life, from faith to love.
If that last sentence made you cringe, don’t worry, I had the same reaction. I was skeptical of how the film would play out because I wasn’t sure that the story had enough to differentiate itself from the other pretty generic rom-coms that come out on a weekly basis. Nicholas Sparks and Lifetime have over saturated the market with flimsy stories that only succeed because of the undying need to have dates occur in a movie theater.
What “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” has that those movies don’t is character. I hesitate to say “genuineness” because it is about salmon fishing….in Yemen. However, both Blunt and McGregor’s characters are fun enough to love apart from each other. Naturally, it becomes a lot easier to actually care about them together by the end.
However, I’ve seen plenty of movies where I liked the lead love interests, but still felt like the movie fell flat. “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” is helped by the supporting characters though. Bridget Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas) is a behind-the-scenes political advisor who sees the salmon fishing project as a way to mend P.R. problems. The satirical aspect of the story is where a lot the good laughs come from, too. Not only this, but she is a character that lights up the screen in every scene. She’s not featured in the movie, but her presence makes the film a lot harder to rag on.
Likewise, Sheikh Muhammad (Amr Waked) is the main Yemenis advocate of salmon. His personal insights pertaining to faith is the basis for the secondary plot. Although the story is billed as a romance, there is a lot about spirituality that oozes through by the end. Thankfully, the film doesn’t push this too much. Instead, they let the drama play out, opting for more “a-ha!” moments than force fed ones. As a moviegoer, these are little things that can go a long way in terms of entertainment.
This isn’t to say there aren’t a few of those “movie moments.” These types of moments are key plot points that only exist because it is a made-up story. There are at least three of these scenes that try to kill the attempts of the character story.
However, overall the attempts are futile. “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” is a cute enough tale to succeed the expectations of mediocrity. Blunt and McGregor have an enjoyable chemistry, but more importantly, they are flanked with two dynamic supporting characters. In terms of story, this lifts it up a level that other romantic comedies dream of. I’m always happy to see an exhausted genre succeed, it’s just too bad the expectation of success isn’t assumed anymore.