'Salmon Fishing in the Yemen' full of whimsy
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is indeed about salmon fishing in the Yemen - or the cockamamie and rather costly notion of building a dam and stocking a waterway in the Arabian peninsula with upstream-swimming fishies imported from the U.K.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is, of course, also a romantic comedy, one in which the "he" (Ewan McGregor) and the "she" (Emily Blunt) start off at odds over this dubious exercise in "Anglo-Yemeni cooperation" and end up sharing a tent by a river in southern Arabia, and sharing a crazy dream.
Directed by Lasse Hallström, a man with a lot of eccentric character studies under his belt, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is based on a Paul Torday book of the same name, a Brit-lit best seller done in the modern-day version of an epistolary novel - lots of text messages, IMs and e-mails. The film keeps some of this, mainly in the cutesy-poo electronic exchanges between Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas), a tightly-wound government press secretary; her boss, the prime minister; and one of his bumbling cabinet underlings.
As for McGregor and Blunt, he's Alfred Jones, a fisheries department bureaucrat in a not-terribly-happy marriage. His passion is fishing (he's famous in some circles for inventing the "Wiley Jones fly"), and he's fussy, tweedy, suburban, and dull. Blunt is Harriet Chetwode-Talbot, a hard-driving marketing exec whose firm has been hired by Sheikh Muhammad (Amr Waked) to facilitate the salmon project - something that will cost the Arab billionaire upwards of 50 million British pounds. (That's more sticker shock than you'll experience at the fish counter of a Whole Foods!)
McGregor and Blunt bumble and parry in their early scenes - he crashes headlong into a door, she scoffs and smirks and walks authoritatively on high heels. Harriet is in a relationship, too, with a seemingly ideal boyfriend (Tom Mison) who gets shipped off to Afghanistan, serving with the troops. When he goes MIA, Alfred is at Harriet's London flat to console her; he's dead-set against the Yemeni salmon idea but forced to go along with the fact-finding and planning stages of the enterprise, which involves meetings with Harriet over lunch and coffee.
Inevitably, the inevitable happens. But he's married (Rachael Stirling has the unenviable task of being the workaholic, no-fun wife), and she's in love with her paratrooper beau. Can Alfred and Harriet come together? Will the salmon take to the non-indigenous waters? Will McGregor get to bellow, "Open the sluices!"
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen answers all of these questions, but not many more. It is what it is, and if you find McGregor and Blunt appealing, the movie will have you feeling similarly about it. And if all this sounds like too much whimsy to bear, be forwarned. There is whimsy everywhere.