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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

OK, wow, so due to some personal stuff I have fallen way behind so there's a lot to catch up with. I'll do a roundup of these past few weeks but first a few full-ish reviews of the more notable films released. Admittedly, everything has fallen by the wayside thanks to The Avengers - kinda deservedly at that - but released here on the same week was this charming little comedy drama with the unlikely title of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

And make no mistake, it is a weird title. It may be based on a well-received and fairly successful book, but Salmon Fishing in the Yemen sounds - to me at least - like its either a weird bit of surrealism or an edgy political drama or, heaven help us, another Kite Runner, but it really isn't any of these things. What it is, essentially, is a good romantic comedy with a rather strange and messy backdrop.

The messy backdrop involves a rich, eccentric sheikh who hires a stodgy scientist to help indulge his personal passion by constructing a system that would introduce salmon-fishing to the desolate landscapes of Yemen. There is also, thrown in for good measure, bits about a soldier missing in action in the Middle East, as well as a ball-busting politician trying to spin a good story about the UK's involvement in that region. Plus, our stodgy scientist has a failing married life to boot. Oh, and lest we forget, the machinations of an extremist Islamist group who are hellbent on stopping the sheikhe's plans.

The film, in short, is stuffed to the gills with inter-locking, inter-weaving and sometimes conflicting plot lines and, though one would imagine that the novel juggled these myriad elements with significantly greater ease and depth than can be afforded by a 120 minute film, the film is a lot less messy than one would reasonably expect. Or, at least, it deals with the abundance of plot with enough wit and charm to ensure that it its messiness is endearing rather than frustrating. Though, based on some of the reviews I've read, not everyone feels as charitable towards this as I unashamedly do.

The novel apparently is driven primarily by its exploration of faith and, though the film certainly doesn't shy away from the subject, it is, when you get right down to it, mostly interested in the relationship between our two leads. Most of the criticism aimed at the film does seem to be based on the fact that for all the intriguing subjects that the film could have focused on, it's a pity that it seems most interested in being a rom-com. For me though, it's one thing making a good film about politics, religion, current affairs and faith, but it's something else entirely to make a romantic comedy that is actually a) funny, b) romantic, c) smart and d) good. Serious socio-political dramas seem to be a dime a dozen these days, but how many truly good romantic comedies do we get a year?

The script is sharp and warm hearted enough to claim much of the credit for how well the film works as an up-market rom com but this is all about Emily Blunt and Ewen McGregor whose sheer likeability make any film in which they appear worth a look but together they make the best screen couple since... well, probably since Emily Blunt and Matt Damon in The Adjustment Bureau. Considering her penchant for working with some of the most charismatic and likeable leading men in Hollywood (lets be honest, it's really not hard to see why), one really has to wonder when we can expect that inevitable team up between her and real life hubby, John Krasinski.

No disrespect to director Lasse Helstrom (What's Eating Gilbert Grape, The Cider House Rules)and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty, Slumdog Millionaire), two clearly immensely talented creators, but that Salmon Fishing works as well as it does, despite its obvious shortcomings, comes down as much to the talent in front of the camera (I haven't even mentioned Kristin Scott Thomas who is in brilliant, hilariously cutting form here) as it does to those behind it.

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