Admittedly Yemen has an image problem, especially in the West. The Brits in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen know this, as does Brit-friendly Sheikh Muhammed (Amr Waked) who has apparently more cash at his disposal than most industrialized countries. The sheikh loves fly fishing so much that he asks his British consultant with the very British name of Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) to find him an expert that could bring fly fishing to his home country of Yemen. Just as Britain’s leading salmon expert Dr. Alfred Jones (a buttoned-up Ewan McGregor) says, “No way would such a thing ever work!” the British government, seeking any positive story from the Middle East, says (in the blunt voice of Kristin Scott Thomas), “MAKE it work!”
The pace of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is as leisurely as, well, fly fishing on a lovely afternoon. Putting two such adorable and appealing actors such as McGregor and Blunt in a movie together, well, you may as well just draw a heart around their initials on your Pee-Chee with a red felt-tip pen. But to the film’s credit, this is a romantic comedy that takes its own sweet time. Both characters are in relationships (he is married, she has a new solider boyfriend that has just gone MIA in Afghanistan), and, well, it is complicated. This is the first recent movie I can remember where one character rebuffs the other by simply saying, “I need to take it slow…” and the other says, “Well, alright.” No one gets their clothes ripped off, and the story allows the two different people to actually change enough where they can meet halfway and actually seem like they realistically might fit together despite their differences.
The framework story about creating an environment in the middle of the desert, where cold-water salmon could realistically survive is completely outlandish. Alfred knows this, and the audience knows this. But the film has a leap-of-faith optimism that is infectious, more than a little bit of that “It’s so crazy it just might work!” gumption. You can help but find yourself (like the characters) actually hoping that such a thing could be possible in a world so full of cynicism, hatred and war. Could bonding over fly fishing be the first step to world peace? Well, why not?
I’d call Salmon Fishing a frothy British romantic comedy, but that would be like saying that Alfred’s button-down cardigan and combed-over hair is the cutting edge of fashion. The movie is more like sitting with a cuppa in a cafe, offering to share your table with friendly strangers, and having a leisurely, warm chat with these new-found friends. It is perfectly pleasant with good conversation, and you walk away feeling a little bit lighter from time well-spent.