Monday, June 4, 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen: The Return of the Literate, Middlebrow Romantic Comedy

Dexter Listens to a Scene with Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor
     A colleague of mine recommended Salmon Fishing in the Yemen a couple of months ago because of Kristin Scott-Thomas, but I hadn’t liked the previews much – it seemed perversely eccentric, plus I’m not a huge fan of Ewan McGregor.  However, more friends kept saying they’d seen it
and enjoyed it and although it’s playing only at the Mariemont Theatre in the metropolitan area, it’s done so for months.  Neil and I finally said, “Uncle” and saw it.

Alfred and Harriet with Sheikh Muhammad
     The film is a genre piece so we know the two leads will end up together; therefore, it’s more a matter of how the plot will work that out.  In the past decade, there have been probably as many ‘rom-coms’ as action-adventure movies and most are pretty pallid and forgettable.  Salmon Fishing is successful because it has both a snarky wit and a sense of depth.  It also has the secret weapon of Emily Blunt – she makes everyone look good who acts with her.  

     The story is peculiar because it’s about a Yemeni Sheik, who wants to introduce salmon fishing to a locale seemingly inhospitable to such an activity.  Amr Waked, who plays the role, is one of the most extraordinary looking actors working right now.  He’s been in other movies (most prominently Syriana as a terrorist), but this is probably the most notable role he’s had in a English-language movie.  His nose is a 
Egyptian Actor Amr Waked
as Sheikh Muhammad
work of natural engineering in itself.  The Sheik has a sense of calm and wisdom that makes him an almost other worldly figure.  Amazingly, a current movie actually deals with issues of faith and different forms of worship.  

Kristin Scott Thomas Working From Home
    Emily Blunt is the Sheik’s representative and Ewan McGregor is the British government’s salmon expert, though he’s actually a bureaucrat and a pawn in a political game being played by Kristin Scott Thomas’s press secretary to the Prime Minister.  Thomas’s character is like an older version of the acerbic romantic she played in Four Weddings and a Funeral, except now juggling marriage, children, and a high-powered career.  The political scenes possess a similar vitriol and verve to the behind-the-Washington-and-London-scenes of In The Loop.  Blunt is funny, intelligent, and touching as a woman who ends up torn between two men.  She connects immediately with other actors.  She is quick, sharp, and selfless like the best improvisers.  McGregor pulls inward since he’s playing a character with Asperger’s and his performance really makes sense because he cannot rely on charisma (a quality that’s been shaky for him as a performer in the past).  Fortunately, he’s not playing a son in this movie so he’s on an even footing with Blunt and he’s better for it.

     Some other bonuses are the excellent cinematography and the use of graphics in the editing that emphasize the literary texture.  A couple of friends thought it turned sappy, but I didn’t feel that way even though it turns on two miracles very late in the plot as well as the extremely good manners of a secondary character.  It may not remain here much longer, but it’s worth a look on DVD or Netflix once it’s available.

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