This year’s top 100 prospects package will be posted the week of February 4th. It’ll begin Tuesday the 5th with the org rankings, followed by the top 100 itself on the 6th, and then org top tens on the 7th and 8th.
The sweet if lightweight romantic comedy Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was nominated for three Golden Globes, one for best comedy/musical film, and one each for its stars, Ewan Macgregor and Emily Blunt, all worthy choices given how bad most comedies, especially romantic ones, tend to be. Salmon Fishing takes a fantastical story as a way to bring its two characters together in a way that might not be entirely believable but at least doesn’t talk down to its audience and delivers a few moments of brilliantly funny dialogue along the way.
The entire premise of the film is a bit absurd – as the title indicates, a wealthy Yemeni sheik (Amr Waked) with a passion for fly-fishing has decided to embark on a project to build a river in his desert country, stock it with salmon, and popularize the sport while also providing a foundation for agriculture in the inhospitable hinterlands. (There’s a lot more to this idea than the film describes: Yemen needs new economic drivers due to imminent depletion of its oil reserves, but at the same time, groundwater supplies are also disappearing, making this project infeasible in reality.) For political reasons, the British government is keen to help the sheik by providing its expertise, which connects the sheik’s investment adviser Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Blunt) with the peevish fisheries expert Dr. Fred Jones (Ewan Macgregor). The two fail to hit it off right away, but rather than providing a cliched story about differing personalities clashing, the script makes their initial disconnect strictly topical: He can’t get past the ridiculousness of the idea, while she, realizing the same, has to move ahead with it anyway because it’s her job to do so and the Crown is making it clear that she has no choice in the matter. The romance that develops seems less forced as a result, even if there’s a bit of a leap from the development of their working relationship to actual love – although if you put me in the same room with Emily Blunt for a few minutes, I’d probably fall in love with her too.
The complication – and, of course, there must be one – is that neither character is exactly unattached. Dr. Jones (the simple man with the simple name) is married, not exactly unhappily but far from happily, while Ms. Chetwode-Talbot (the more nuanced character) has a new boyfriend who’s just been deployed to Afghanistan and, early on in the film, is declared missing in action. Nothing that develops on either side is terribly surprising; it’s a romantic comedy and those roads tend to all lead to the same destination. Salmon Fishing surmounts the obstacles of its genre primarily through the subtle changes in its two main characters, and the excellent performances behind them.
Everyone else in the film is just a prop, however. Sheiks, sultans, and other wealthy Arab characters in films are nearly always dissolute wastrels, burning their oil fortunes on material goods and women, or Westernized sages who appear to have come down from the mountaintops with the wisdom of centuries. Our sheik here comes from the latter group, but has virtually no story of his own, and the opposition of local Islamists is a plot device rather than a serious subject to at least be discussed a little more seriously by the central characters behind the fishing scheme. Kristin-Scott Thomas has some great lines, including by far the funniest bit in the film (involving her son’s hooded sweatshirt), as the Crown’s head PR person, a no-nonsense power-broker always looking for an angle to sell and showing no indication of any kind of consience or even emotion underneath her shrill exterior. Aside from her few good one-liners, the film drags when neither Macgregor nor Blunt is on-screen.
Salmon Fishing does hint at some of the environmental and ethical concerns around overfishing, salmon farming, and water usage, never seriously but enough that the script can’t be accused of ignoring the subjects, although I was more shocked to see the fish-loving Dr. Jones feeding bread to the koi in his backyard pond. (Not only is it nutritionally useless, but koi aren’t exactly big bread-bakers and have no ability to properly digest gluten.) I wouldn’t ask too much more of a light-hearted romance – it’s nice to see these subjects mentioned, but the goal is to bring these two characters together without insulting our intelligence along the way, which Salmon Fishing does reasonably well. And if you disagree, well, looking at Emily Blunt isn’t the worst use I’ll find for two hours this week.