Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Fishing For Love Among the Salmon in the Yemen

One of the things I love about living in Portland that I've never experienced anywhere else is the occasional free movie pass I've received over the years. I know it happens in other cities, too, but I never managed to get one when I lived in Atlanta. In the past six years that I've lived in Portland, I probably got to see more than a dozen films for free. Okay, many of them I probably would not pay to see, but a few were ones that I had planned to see anyway, such as Into the Wild, The Green Zone, and the latest, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. When I first heard about an upcoming Ewan McGregor film with a strange title, I thought I would likely not see it, until I learned that Emily Blunt was the co-star. I'm absolutely captivated by this British actress, ever since I saw her in The Devil Wears Prada in 2006. She's gorgeous and has the most incredible accent (since elementary school, I've always been a sucker for a lady with an accent). I loved her in The Devil Wears Prada, The Adjustment Bureau and Dan in Real Life, so I'd watch her read a phone book.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen might be a strange titled film about the kind of "sport" that most people would find boring (a movie about fishing?!? Who wants to see that?), but it was actually this year's opening film for the Portland International Film Festival (they always get a high profile film to open up the festival. I was hoping it would have been The Lady, which I'm still eagerly awaiting). This film is a British-made one, so we'll see how well it does in America (I don't expect it to be a huge hit, perhaps a break-even or a modest one).

The premise is that the British government is desperate for any good news stories out of the Middle East in light of continual bad news (it is quite timely, considering the flare up in Afghanistan recently, due to the American military burning Qur'ans and an American soldier going postal on a group of Afghani people as though he were Anakin Skywalker getting revenge against the Tusken raiders for killing his mother). Kristin Scott Thomas is the press officer to the Prime Minister who plays it campy, stealing the film with her zany bureaucratic b.s. For example, when she learns from Ewan McGregor, who plays a scientist who knows a lot about fishing, that there are 3 million men in the United Kingdom that fish for sport, Thomas decides that her boss needs to tap into that constituency by faking a love for fishing and appearing on the cover of every fishing magazine that is published. Then she calls her own ideas brilliant. Her email exchanges with the Prime Minister are hilarious, though unrealistic (if a real politician and staff member had such exchanges on the Internet, they would be in so much controversy and trouble that their careers would not survive the scandal).

Emily Blunt plays a lady who works for a firm that has as a client one super wealthy sheik from Yemen. He's a billionaire with a strange request. He wants to bring the sport of salmon fishing to his desert country. Naturally, Ewan McGregor's scientist is cynical about the whole operation and can barely contain his contempt at having to treat this request seriously. But his supervisor blackmails him with a choice between unemployment or to work exclusively for the sheik until the job is done for twice his current salary. The supervisor is under pressure from the Prime Minister's press officer to do something that will bring good news out of the Middle East for the folks in the British Isles.

It's not until the fisheries scientist meets the sheik that the skepticism begins to fade. The sheik speaks of salmon fishing as a religious experience, but McGregor's scientist's idea of religion is going to Target on Sundays (my friend thought this was a lame joke in the movie and complained to me when one lady a few rows behind us was laughing like a hyena). The sheik is the most intriguing character in the film. He appears like a wise, visionary leader who is not afraid to do something for his country that others find strange or unrealistic.

There are a few subplots, regarding Blunt's relationship with a soldier who has gone Missing in Action on a recent special operation. McGregor's marriage is lacking in passion and strained by dual careers (his wife takes a U.N. job in Switzerland, I think). The salmon project brings the two characters into a closer working relationship which supposedly blossoms until complications ensue.

I understand the point of the film, which is meant to be an inspiring story about how what might seem impossible odds can come true through perseverance and shared vision with similar minded people who believe in it, but I thought it was a rather lame attempt at being a creative romantic comedy that rang kind of false for me. While it is a likable film with enough laughs and a good cast, I just felt like it was missing something. It tried too hard to be relevant and deep and it wanted to be more than merely a romantic comedy. I love salmon. It is my favourite fish to consume and I already knew a little bit about the salmon's preferred environment (cold water) and habits (swimming upstream), but to make a film about it? I'm thinking it's not going to be an easy sell for the American public.

When I left the theater, a man with clipboard asked people what we thought of the film. I gave it a generous B- and said that it was "good." My friend gave it a C. Out of all the free films I've seen, this was the first one I've been to where more than half the seats were vacant. The company that gives out free passes (I'm assuming for screen testing to see how will it will do nationwide) always gives out more passes than seats. If people don't show up for the free film, I think that is probably not a good sign. The ultimate question is...would I have paid $10 to see this on opening weekend? Probably not. I would've waited until it was released on DVD.

One thing that does strike me though, is that Ewan McGregor does have the most unique accent I've ever heard. I've noticed this in other films, but it is so blatant here. He's from Scotland but doesn't sound like the stereotypical Scottish person. Its definitely interesting to listen to. As for Emily Blunt, I've come to realize that she basically plays the same personality in every film I've seen her in. And I'm actually perfectly okay with that!

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