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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Salmon Fishing reels in mixed reviews

Published: March 30, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc.

There has never been a movie with a more self-explanatory title than “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.” The movie, directed by Lasse Hallstrom, promises to be about salmon, fishing and the Middle East, and it clearly fulfills that promise. Thankfully at some points, it also deals with the issues of love, unskillful prime ministers and outrageous projects, as well as war and separation. Clearly, not much seriousness can be expected from a movie with such a title. As predicted, not much is delivered. Since the movie is intended to be funny, the lack of seriousness is forgivable; however, its comedic attempt fails and it ends up being neither funny nor serious.

Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) is Britain’s leading fisheries expert. His character is very much like Sheldon Cooper’s in “The Big Bang Theory” in that he is smart, predictable and humorously boring.

When he is approached, however, by consultant Harriet (Emily Blunt) with a very unrealistic and even slightly hopeless fishing project, he is forced to face an unpredictable world and do the unexpected: bring in 10,000 British fish to the Middle East so that a bored and rich entrepreneur can learn a new hobby. Since the project is sponsored by billionaire Sheik Muhammad (Amr Waked), Jones is not excited about it in the slightest. He raises the project’s expected cost from hundreds to thousands and then from dollars to pounds in a heartbeat.
The crazy fish project, however, turns out to be the British prime minister’s way of distracting people from the war in the Middle East. Although we don’t see much of him, his IM conversations with his spokesperson, Patricia Maxwell (Kristen Scott) are the only somewhat funny moments of the movie, which, while they were clearly meant to be comedic, they were not overly so. Patricia’s uncharacteristically good use and knowledge of insults, sassiness and determination are exposed, so it’s hard not to laugh. Although being the British prime minister’s spokesperson can be difficult and even intimidating, it apparently comes naturally to her. She is a great example of the saying, “Behind every great man, there is a great woman.” Eventually, Patricia is forced to bring the very useless prime minister with her to Yemen where she realizes that he can’t even fish but, thankfully, he has Patricia.

Although surprising for its boring title, the movie is actually more about love than it is about fishing. First, there is Jones’ relationship with his untraditional wife who leaves him for months at a time in order to do business in foreign countries. There is also his love affair with his fish, which he constantly talks to and feeds. Finally, there is his crush on Harriet, who has another love affair of her own. Captain Robert Mayers (Tom Mison) asks Harriet to wait for him while he fights in the war, but when she receives a devastating phone call informing her that her boyfriend is missing and possibly dead, she has no one to turn to but Alfred Jones. Much of the movie is about Harriet’s healing process, Jones’ crush and the question of whether or not the two are ever going to be together.

The other question the movie raises is whether or not the fish will swim upward, jump and have a smooth transition into their new waters, or if the project will be a complete waste. Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy creates an interesting movie out of an uninteresting plot. While the main concern of the movie is the fish project, it almost feels like a non-existent issue at some points. When the characters go to Yemen in order to start the project, it is difficult to remember what they’re doing there, or why they went in the first place.
This movie is no all-time classic, but there is something about the utterly simplistic plot that makes it funny and a surprisingly enjoyable watch. The actors are all talented and they interact well with each other. Kristen Scott and Emily Blunt make the movie worth seeing. Without them, the funny parts would be gone and the movie would be a plain and boring story about fishing. In the end, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” is not what you would expect from a romantic comedy. Yet here its bland originality is surprising. It makes the unpromising plot interesting.