You know, the lack of a hyphen between “salmon” and “fishing” kind of indicates that this film’s about salmon that fish in the Yemen, not salmon that are fished in the Yemen. Aren’t ambiguities like that just the worst?
Anyway. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen‘s title maybe isn’t grammatical, but it is literal: the film is really actually about salmon-fishing in the Yemen. You think of fishing as either a quietly compelling hobby or an inoffensive but dull way to pass the time, and I reckon audiences will in turn think of Salmon Fishing as either quietly compelling or inoffensively dull. It’s a sweet, pleasant movie – but it’s so nothing. You walk away feeling like you’ve spent all afternoon standing waist-deep in a river without catching a fish.
If you’ve seen the trailer you know what to expect. There aren’t any surprises in the plot: Ewan McGregor is Fred, a public servant and fishing enthusiast (a total riot, in other words) who’s forced to help out on the Sheikh of Yemen’s (Amr Waked) so-stupid-it-just-might-work dream to introduce salmon to his country. Yemen, oh by the way, is mostly desert. This doesn’t faze the Sheikh’s chipper financial consultant Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt, who’s both delightful and just one stomach flu away from her goal weight), who connects with Fred as the project begins to become a reality.
It’s not Salmon Fishing‘s polite predictability that’s the problem. It’s the plot’s super-low stakes. The strongest emotion the Sheikh’s epic ambition ever arouses is: “Oh. That’s nice.” You know something’s amiss when Fred drinking cold water from a well in Yemen is a key moment in the plot.
(Some minor spoilers ahead.)
The screenplay throws up a few hurdles. The Sheikh’s plans are opposed by rebels. Harriet has a soldier boyfriend (Tom Mison) who goes missing-in-action in Afghanistan and resurfaces just in time to thwart her burgeoning romance with Fred. Kristin Scott Thomas plays a press secretary who’s preposterously manipulative even by the preposterously manipulative standards of real-life spin doctors.
But there’s still never much sense everything won’t work out okay in the end: the rebels’ motives aren’t defined beyond “We hate the Sheikh because he hates God or something!”; Harriet and her soldier boy only dated for three weeks before he was posted so remind me why we’re meant to care about their relationship?; and Scott Thomas drops in every now and then to say something zany then choofs off again.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen probably would’ve been better if it was about salmon that fish in the Yemen. It could’ve been animated. There could’ve been songs!