dir: Lasse Hallstrom
This title is a blatant rip-off of the band Trout Fishing in Quebec, but I’ll forgive it that. I won’t forgive it much else along the way. Lasse Hallstrom is responsible for some truly terribly treacly flicks in the past, but somehow he was able to pull out before making a horrible mess this time.
I have not and will never read the book this flick is based on, but I’m virtually certain at least one thing about the book doesn’t carry over to the film. The character that McGregor plays has to have been older than the one he plays here, otherwise it makes no sense. Well, I guess it makes some sense if he has Asperger’s, or is just emotionally retarded, but then again, he’s a guy, so it’s hard to tell the difference.
Dr Alfred Jones (McGregor) is an expert on fish, and lives and breathes their fishy world as if it were his own. It’s humans he can’t stand. Even though he’s so curmudgeonly that it hurts the eyeballs, he has somehow managed to marry a woman who, for most of the film, is as emotionless and proper as he is, so they’re an ideal match.
Ewan's great, like he always is, but even he acts so stuffy at times that he almost looks disgusted with himself. He is one of those actors, like Johnny Depp, like R. Lee Ermy, that the womenfolk, in my humble estimation, will watch and adore in anything they do, no matter how good or lame. Maybe not former Marine Drill Sergeant R. Lee Ermy. He'd scare women into having orgasms, as opposed to the firm but gentle coaxing methods Depp and McGregor would be responsible for.
The British government is interested in some positive PR opportunities with the Middle Eastern world, to undo some of the damage wrought by Blair’s Afghan adventure. No-one wants to hear about another Brit soldier being killed by an IED, or another village accidentally flattened in the pursuit of Taliban. They want to hear about exciting opportunities for trade and tourism to hellholes they’d otherwise never want to hear about.
The PM’s communications manager (Kristen Scott-Thomas, in an English-speaking role for a change) comes directly from the Alastair Campbell – Malcolm Tucker school of people management. In other words, she’s screaming abuse, swearing and smoking continuously. Which is a joy to behold. My favourite moment was probably when she’s trying to convince her son to take his hoody off in the strongest language possible, and lapses into West Coast ebonics in order to get through his teenage word-filter.
A curious confluence of events occurs. A sheikh from Yemen (Amr Waked), who has a stately manor in Scotland, loves fishing. Specifically, he has a deep love of salmon fly fishing. This leads to his dream of being able to go fishing for salmon in his home town back in Yemen, with the convenience of not having to catch a plane packed with glum Scottish tourists.
In other words, this gentle and wise sheikh, wants salmon to live in and travel to an inhospitable land where they’ve never existed before, just so he can fish whenever the fancy takes him. He also thinks it will have a civilising influence, perhaps, on his people.
He has some kind of PR firm on his payroll which has exquisite offices but, apparently, one employee, as far as I could tell. She has the delightful moniker of Harriet Chetwode-Talbot. Harriet, unlike what her name implies, is played by the almost always delightful and charming Emily Blunt. She is tasked with convincing the good Dr Jones to come on board, and you’d think she’d have little trouble in doing so. That is, except when it comes to trying to convince a chap who has more warm feelings regarding caddis flies and fishing rods than he does for the female of the human species.
He dismisses it as a ludicrous folly and an insult to his intelligence, but she is quietly persistent. And, she’s Emily Blunt, or at least a character played by Emily Blunt, so you know she’ll probably get her way, eventually.
His every logical and reasonable objection as to why it could never work, since he is an expert in this field, she meets with data and evidence that doesn’t contradict his statements, but gives some wiggle room, extending what might be possible. Jones never stops thinking anything other than the completely unfeasible nature of the enterprise, until, of course, a few things happen.
The most important event thematically is that he gets to spend some time fishing with the Sheikh, who is a cultured, softly-spoken and gentle man. He is also a devout Muslim, and his love of fishing and his faith are not at odds, in fact they support each other. Jones, on the other hand, is a cold realist for whom the whims of the divine are no place in which to invest one’s hopes and dreams.
This visionary sheikh tries to elaborate upon his feeling towards the faith that drives his endeavour, which he likens to the faith a fisherman has that his or her endeavours upon the water will eventually result in a fish, at least one fish, just one fish goddamn it. And that’s a faith, not a blind faith, that with a pure heart and every ounce of effort, something that seems impossible will still eventually occur.
It’s this kind of magical thinking that has made the world such a torturous and shit place to live for thousands of years, but in the context of what is essentially a romantic comedy, it’s meant to be sweet and uplifting. After these words of the sheikh’s, Jones constipated nature undergoes something of a change, helped along, of course, by the inestimable charm of Harriet Chetwode-Talbot, who Jones calls ‘Miss Chetwode-Talbot’ all the time even in private conversations for most of the flick, to comical effect.
Of course he’s going to be awakened to life and love by Harriet, but from his perspective, the possibility of whether they could end up being happy together is as likely as salmon flourishing in the deserts of the Yemen.
Have faith, little man, breathes the cosmos, have a little faith.
There is a turning point that occurs in the flick, well, two turning points, and they both occur somewhat simultaneously, when Jones’s marriage seems to be on the rocks, and Harriet’s brief fling with a soldier prior to her work with Dr Jones causes additional complications of the stultifyingly predictable kind.
That wasn’t enough to sour me on the movie, not by a long shot. I really enjoyed the breezy charm of the two leads, and the time they spend with the sheikh, who seems like an impossibly wonderful man. The dream of achieving something that the world tells you will never happen is also deeply appealing, and infectious, in that we start to care (inexplicably) as to whether the plan will work. The success of the project and the growing possibility of love between the two main characters paralleled in such a way that if we care about the latter, we also barrack for the former.
The real turning point for McGregor’s character comes, for me, when he leaves a message on Harriet’s voicemail in an attempt to console her using the most officious and pro forma language possible. As he hangs up the phone, he looks disgusted with himself for using weaselly, meaningless empty-speak in the place of actual words expressing actual human emotions. He looks so appalled at himself that his actions from then on start to make a hell of a lot of sense.
It may have a name that would put most people off, but it’s a fairly light, fairly bright romantic movie of its type. McGregor can do roles like this in his sleep, and Blunt goes from strength to strength with each role, being able to convey an abundance of emotions with a minimum of fuss.
Much of the humour comes from the characters and their reactions rather than any particular lines, though the side-dish elements of incompetent bureaucrats and bumbling politicians is broad but not unwelcome. Who doesn’t delight in laughing at idiotic politicians, especially British ones? Sir Humphrey Appleby, we still miss you.
I enjoyed it, and I recommend it to people wanting a break from the unrelenting brutality and intensity of ‘regular’ cinema. If you had the choice of watching this or The Dark Knight Rises, well, think of what your mum and your grandma would enjoy more, and then pick Salmon Fishing in the Yemen instead.
8 times no-one should ever wear a bow-tie to work f they don’t want to desperately deserve a wedgie out of 10
“Faith is the cure that heals all troubles. Without faith there is no hope and no love. Faith comes before hope, and before love.” – and surely nothing bad could ever come from that? – Salmon Fishing in the Yemen