Theology a Bit Fishy in Salmon Fishing
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- 2012 9 Mar
DVD Release Date: July 17, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: March 9, 2012
Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and sexual content, and brief language)
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Run Time: 112 min.
Director: Lasse Hallstrőm
Actors: Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Kristin Scott Thomas, Amr Waked, Rachael Sterling, Tom Mison
Two weeks ago, Wanderlust showed how a romantic comedy could go wrong by forgetting the romance, and by stressing raunchy and outrageous gags for warmth and genuine feeling. This week, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen improves on the formula for a successful entry in the genre but still comes up a bit short—this time by forgetting the comedy element down the stretch. Instead of humor, the film pivots toward a lightweight mysticism and a sudden, but disappointing, attempt to give the film a conclusion more appropriate to an action film than a rom-com. By the time the film wraps up, you might wonder what happened to the sweet relationship story you thought you were watching.
Fred (Ewan McGregor, Beginners), a government employee who specializes in fisheries, is approached by Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt, The Muppets). She represents a wealthy sheik (Amr Waked, Contagion) who wants to bring salmon fishing to the dry and dusty Yemen. Fred’s resistance to the idea is overcome by a pushy assistant (a dynamite Kristin Scott Thomas, Confessions of a Shopaholic) to the prime minister who’s eager for a “symbol of Anglo-Yemeni cooperation”—something to take the British public’s mind off of war and turmoil in the Middle East.
It turns out that the project is just what Fred, troubled by marital problems, needs. He finds a distraction from his personal struggles by traveling to Yemen and working on the sheik’s vision, even though he thinks it will never pan out. The temperature in Yemen is too hot, the water’s not cold enough, and even if they get those elements right, the salmon won’t “run”—won’t swim upstream.
But the sheik has faith, or so he keeps telling Fred. He has a vision, and the salmon project is part of it— despite accusations from his countrymen that the sheik is introducing “Western ways” to the region.
Fred isn’t the only person who needs the distraction of the sheik’s project. Harriet, facing the loss of a lover she’d know for only a few weeks, also finds a purpose in Yemen, and in Fred’s steady presence while she works through her grief.
The chemistry between the straight-laced Fred and shimmering Harriet is palpable early on in Salmon Fishing, a reminder of how enjoyable romantic comedies can be when well played. Best of all is Thomas, whose political dynamo with a quick temper gives the film the comic force it needs to propel its otherwise gentle narrative.
That said, the strengths of the film taper out as it shifts toward a bland message about “faith” and a few Zen-like scenes of fly fishing (done much better in Robert Redford’s A River Runs Through It—a film that includes a respectable portrait of a Protestant minister).
The religion aspect of Salmon Fishing doesn’t go much deeper than a few discussions about faith (with no object attached to said faith) and the idea that the salmon project has united Muslims, Christians and, as the sheik says, “the odd heathen.” Fred and Harriet, who profess that they know no one who attends church, don’t look to a higher power for answers to their problems. Instead, they find strength in each other—not unexpected in a film with familiar stars, but disappointing considering that the film approaches religious ideas only to give them short shrift. Also disappointing is the film’s clunky attempt to add terrorism to its story mix—an awkward tonal shift in what otherwise is a reflective, and romantic narrative, if not a particularly deep one.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen has its pleasures, mainly in the performances of its three lead actors. Those pleasures diminish as the film moves toward its conclusion, leaving a slight sense of disappointment to a film that, for a time, reminds one of what good romantic comedies can do. Better that the film had stuck to the romance and relegated its all-things-to-all-people ideas about religion to a much smaller role.
- Language/Profanity: “My God”; “good God”; “Jesus”; the “f” word; “bas-ard”; “b-tches”; “up his a-s”; “bloody hell”; a typed communications shows asterisks where letters would be spelling out curse words; a character refers to “the eff-ing Yemen”; “shove it up your unfeeling a-s.
- Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: Some drinking when a toast is offered; Fred tells Harriet he drinks only on weekends, after 7 p.m.; drinking with lunch; Patricia smokes a cigarette; Patricia pulls a bottle of wine out of the refrigerator and drinks some of it.
- Sex/Nudity: Passionate kissing; Fred and his wife are shown from the shoulders up as they finish having sex, and his wife says, “That should do you for a while”; Patricia, hearing of a potential political scandal, says of the woman involved, “At least she’s legal”; Harriet decides to sleep with a man she’s just met and is shown waking up next to him (we see his bare chest but nothing else); Harriet is shown crawling into bed with him in a subsequent scene; Fred shown bare-chested.
- Violence/Crime: Fred runs into a glass door; attempted shooting and an act of sabotage.
- Marriage/Religion: Fred tells his wife, “We could have a baby,” but she’s not interested and leaves for a six-week work assignment; the sheik says, “This is a sign” about his plan to bring salmon fishing to Yemen; a comment that fishing and religion are “the same thing”; the sheik says, “I have too many wives to not know when a woman’s unhappy”; Fred says, “The sheik’s English has a tendency toward the mystical”; Fred tells Harriet, “I don’t think I know anyone who goes to church anymore.” She replies, “Neither do I.” Fred says, “On Sunday, we go to Target”; a character says, “I don’t care if God’s taken up fly fishing”; the sheik says, “We must have faith”; Rows of men shown praying on knees in Yemen; Fred’s wife begs him not to leave her, but he says it’s for the best; Fred becomes emotionally involved with Harriet while he is still married; the sheik looks over the dam and wonders if his efforts have glorified man rather than God, and is therefore an act of hubris; sheik declares a “miracle” has occurred; the sheik tells those gathered at the opening of the dam that “Muslims, Christians and the odd heathen . . . are gathered here for an act of faith”; sheik carries with him what appear to be prayer beads.
Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.