Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, the rom-com with the unusual title, comes from schmaltz master Lasse Hallstrom, who gave us the gooey Chocolat and letter-rific Dear John. Romantic comedies are one of cinema’s most predictable genres, but what separates the good from the bland are the flourishes. Luckily, SFITY has plenty.
First, there’s the two leads. The sabre-tongued Emily Blunt is as witty as she is vivacious. She plays a financial consultant to a sheik who dreams of fly-fishing in the desert. Ewan McGregor is the fisheries expert who gets caught in her net.
McGregor works the geek-chic look and persona here. With a wardrobe filled with wool ties and plaid shirts, his Dr. Alfred Jones is a quiet man who expresses himself by angrily feeding his school of carp.
That the story dips its toes into political waters — with the character of Patricia Maxwell — came as a nice surprise. A PR flack for the British prime minister, she seizes onto the sheik’s silly scheme. Kristin Scott Thomas has great fun with the part and pushes it into Malcom Tucker territory.
Hallstrom also offers some sharp ideas about the way we communicate in the wireless age. SFITY is filled with emails, texting and chat windows, all incorporated seamlessly. Certain characters could stand to be fleshed out — like the wise, all-knowing Sheik Muhammed and a certain soldier boyfriend who disappears conveniently. But the cast’s great chemistry and the film’s deviations from the typical rom-com blueprint make this fish tale one worth saving. Oh, and the footage of the writhing salmon is gorgeous. Plan for sushi afterwards.