Last week I attended an advance screening of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, an adaptation of the 2007 satirical book of the same name.
I haven't read the book - hell, before I saw the film I didn't even know it was a book - but apparently if you have read it the film doesn't really live up to it (which of course is true for 98.9% of book-to-film adaptations). However, if like me you haven't read the book then the film really is a treat; this review will be based solely on the film, since, duh, like I just said, I have nothing else to base it on, so don't get all hissy with me if you have indeed read the book and disagree with everything I say: just disregard it, I'm used to that.
Government fishing expert Fred Jones (Ewan McGregor) is approached by consultant Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt - I had to look up how to spell her character's name, it was tricky) on behalf of a wealthy sheikh who wants to introduce salmon fishing to the Yemen (see, the film does what it says on the tin). At first dismissing it as impossible, Fred is forced into working on the project by the government, and specifically, Patricia Maxwell, the Prime Minister's Press Secretary (a wonderful Kristen Scott Thomas) who is looking for a good news story to boost Anglo-Arab relations and to counteract the ongoings of the action in Afghanistan, conveniently where Harriet's soldier boyfriend has just been reported as missing.
I didn't really have any expectations going into it, and it turned out I was really very pleasantly surprised by it. Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt actually make a really lovely couple, and coming out of it I'm slightly sad that they aren't together in real life. The film is a lot more complex than it looks in the trailer, but no less enjoyable, which is good, so I definitely wasn't disappointed in it.
Kristen Scott Thomas is without a shadow of a doubt the best part of the film, with the most hilarious lines - whether she's shouting at her son for treating her "like one of his hoes", flirting with the sheikh's security, or typing hilarious putdowns to the PM, she gets it pitch-perfect.. When the film starts to take a dip around the half-way point, she is the one to pick it back up again. Considering the last review I gave of her acting was less than favourable, I can safely say she is forgiven for her wrongdoings and I am happily reminded of what a fabulous comic actress she is - I hope to see more of this soon; it's made me want to watch Four Weddings and a Funeral again just to see her in action.
Ewan McGregor, too, was a wonderful surprise, and I finally see why people like him as an actor. I've never been impressed with him really before this, and I don't think I'll ever fully forgive him for Moulin Rouge, but he won me over very quickly in this. His cynical view of the plan for the first chunk of the film is so funny, and one of the highlights of the film is him drawing little (very good) pictures whilst explaining how badly he thinks the plan will fail (it's in the trailer, but somehow seeing it in the context of the rest of the film makes it even funnier). You end up rooting for him when he finally escapes his marriage and comes out of his shell, and his chemistry with Blunt is excellent; they bounce off each other really well.
Blunt is also very good, and like Scott Thomas, I'm reminded of her brilliance in this, even if she doesn't fully shine like she does in, say, The Devil Wears Prada. Aside from the annoying segment of the film where she inexplicably has a complete breakdown (more on that below), she is really lovely, and she appears to be the obvious choice for Fred over his bitch of a wife, even if they don't actually have much in common other than their attachment to the project. She slips between comedy and tragedy very well for the most part, and I think that has to be applauded. Altogether, though they are the two main roles, McGregor and Blunt give very subtle performances that will entertain more mature audiences, but that's what they're going for (I think. It's quite hard to tell who this is aimed at, actually. I'd say older audiences, definitely).
There are some flaws with the film. The treatment of Fred's marriage breakdown (which you will hope for, because his wife is a mega-bitch who doesn't appreciate him at all) and Harriet's boyfriend's disappearance are never really treated with the depth and seriousness they require to be entirely believable. Even though Fred's separation from his wife is inevitable, it feels very muted, and he seems to get over it entirely too quickly. And yes, Emily Blunt spends ten minutes of the film crying and moping around her designer flat, but as soon as she gets on a plane to Yemen she seems to have forgotten all about her missing boyfriend. You question why she even has such an extreme reaction, considering they were only going out for a month; she acts like a grieving widow when his parents didn't even know she existed.
I also think the sub-plot of the local militants' sabotage plan of the project was kind of unnecessary; there were enough other obstacles to overcome without the added threat of a group of men trying to destroy their work. Um, I suppose I should say that this is a big SPOILER, but you feel let down and unfulfilled at the end as all of their work kind of goes up in smoke and they have to start all over again, even if it is kind of supposed to be uplifting and hopeful.
I didn't really know what sort of film it was trying to be, as it has defining elements of comedy, drama, and romance whilst dealing with issues like the crisis in the Middle East and the breakdown of marriages, but somehow it mostlyworks. I think if they had cut the whole sabotage bit out, they could have dedicated more time to dealing with the issues I think got overlooked somewhat - it's like there was a bit too much going on to fully get stuck in ro one particular bit.
Saying that, it is a lovely, feel-good film that brightened my week, and I'd still recommend it. It hasn't made me desperate to read the book, and I don't have hugely strong urges to go and see it again straight away, but it still was lovely to watch and I'm very glad I did see it, even if to only have discovered a new-found love for Ewan McGregor.
Verdict: a genuinely very sweet film that, although is predictable, is a wonderful piece of light entertainment that will cheer you up on a cloudy day. And make you want a holiday. I'm not feeling generous today, so I'll stick with the three stars, but there were definitely five-star moments in there; it just never packs the punch I think it needed to truly make it brilliant.