The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Salmon fishing tasting like chicken

with 19 comments

I wish Salmon Fishing in Yemen stood out as much as the title. As much as I want to see Swedish hockey players be successful in NHL, I want Lasse Hallström be equally successful with the critics as at the box office.

But putting the patriotism aside, I have to admit that the film reminds me of chicken. And I’m not talking about a delicious, spicy Indian dish here; I’m talking about a completely neutral chicken breast, useful for anything from a salad to a pie. Women probably likes it a little bit more, but everyone think it’s okish, but nothing more. It doesn’t challenge, it doesn’t annoy, it doesn’t stick in your memory. Ideally you consume it on a flight, because that’s what it was made for.

Lack of chemistry
Basically there are two main storylines in this film. One is about the fishing expert (Ewan McGregor) who one day is put at the unlikely task to assist a wealthy man in his mission to bring fly-fishing to Yemen. It’s about “making the impossible possible”, thanks to effort and a never-failing belief. This is a story I never grow tired of hearing. You can as well move fish and water to the desert as you pull a ship over the mountain. It’s the fighting spirit that is interesting, not the task at hands.

However I find it harder to engage in the second plot, which is the same fishing expert falling in love with a young woman (Emily Blunt) who also works on the salmon project.

Yes, I can see that girl is younger as well as hotter than his wife, but what else is there to it? He’s not the type who throws away a life-long marriage just like that. I didn’t sense the chemistry between them. If anything I wanted them to get back to their respective partners, which I think was against the idea of the film, judging from the music. I felt nothing, or even vaguely annoyed, when they kissed. And that’s a bit of a problem.

You’re supposed to approve of the lovers falling in love in a romantic film and you expect to feel good when you watch a feel-good movie. If you don’t do that, something isn’t working as intended.

Returning to Sweden
A final note on Lasse Hallström: it’s been over 25 years since he got a ticket to Hollywood thanks to My Life as a Dog. The jump over the ocean had the effect that his movies became more polished, with higher budgets and access to established actors. But it also meant that something of his personal touch got lost. The machinery ate it.

Lasse Hallström’s next movie will be Swedish and I can’t help wondering what difference it will make, if any. Is there more to it than just the switch of language? Perhaps some of the polish and chicken style will fall off when he hits Swedish ground? I hope so.

Salmon Fishing in Yemen (Lasse Hallström, UK, 2011) My rating: 3/5

Written by Jessica

September 11, 2012 at 1:00 am

19 Responses

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  1. See I liked this a lot more than you did. I enjoyed the story KST was hilarious and it was pompous and very british… But I can understand your points

    • I don’t say it’s really bad. I think my rating reflects that. And Ewan McGregor is a favorite of mine. It’s just that it felt a bit… meh. A little bit too streamlined, despite the rather odd title and plot.


      September 11, 2012 at 11:50 pm

  2. I normally enjoy Hallestrom’s film’s Jessica. My Life as a Dog is excellent and I also like Chocolat and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. In fact, there are very few that I’ve not liked but for some reason I was never drawn to this one. Your fine write-up has further fuelled that. Cheers.

    Mark Walker

    September 11, 2012 at 11:04 am

    • Thanks Mark. I think you can as well stay away from this one. But yes, deep down I like him too. My Life as a Dog deserved the success it got as far as I remember (it’s been a while) and I too have liked some of his later movies. But it feels as if Hollywood is smoothening out a few too many wrinkles.


      September 11, 2012 at 11:52 pm

  3. I read and loved the book. It is about project management, hierarchies, project death march. Plus there is the story of his marriage and Fred’s and Harriet’s romance. Most of the book is in the style of letter and email exchange.

    I really awaited the movie – because I wanted to know how to make a movie of this. I never understood why e.g. Lord of the Ring was rated as an unfilmable book (and it wasn’t, obviously). This one was much harder to do.

    That said it is an acceptable film after the book if you read the book. But often enough you stumble upon the changes. Main problem in my point of view is the character of Mary, Fred’s wife, and their relationship. In the movie they have a real life together! E.g. they are together in the music band. In the book Fred tells us about their interesting life: On Sundays they don’t attend church but go shopping because it is so handy. Mary is depicted much -MUCH- colder and technocratic in the book, even if it is much easier to generate this image in a book. Plus the relationship between Harriet and Robert is much more cheesy in the movie, the end has changed significantly, Mary’s reaction to the MIA status is much different – and more in character in the book, as she actively tries to find out what happened to Robert by inquiring the departement of defence. (Robert was MIA in Iran in the book, which is much more objectionable than “simple” MIA in Afghanistan.)

    A book is a book, a movie is a movie. Each one has to stand for his own. And I still think the movie for itself is quite nice. But the motivation of the charactes can be better understood when you read the book.


    September 11, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    • Thank you for sharing Hauke! I haven’t read the book but I’ve heard very good things about it and from your explanations it definitely sounds as if it makes those relationships make more sense than the movie does. In the film their marriage seems far from irreparable. And without going into spoilers… I think the change in how she looks at her missing bf goes a bit too quick and easy. I don’t follow it.


      September 11, 2012 at 11:55 pm

  4. Great review, Jessica. I haven’t seen this yet but it seems bland, bland, bland. The last Hallstrom film I watched was Hachi, and I quite liked it.


    September 12, 2012 at 1:41 am

    • Yes, it was a bit bland. I think Hallstrom can make better, more personal.


      September 12, 2012 at 9:11 am

  5. Wait a second… I feel like you’re underestimating the deliciousness of chicken, even the neutral, average, run of the mill chicken. Just a little lemon pepper or red pepper or basil, garlic… It doesn’t take much to dress chicken up right.


    September 12, 2012 at 3:50 am

    • Hehe. As a matter of fact I LOVE chicken. Even if it’s not spicy. But I wanted to find some way to describe the feeling this movie gave me. That it lacked sting.


      September 12, 2012 at 9:12 am

  6. I like it a whole lot more than you, I thought it was sweet and funny. I adore that guy who played the Sheik. But at least we agree that title is awesome. I thought it was pretty clever.


    September 12, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    • That we can agree on! I think my biggest problem was that I didn’t want the to-become-a-love-couple to be together. Especially the girl… I couldn’t get over what she did. When I watch romantic films I need to be on the side of the couple.


      September 12, 2012 at 9:45 pm

  7. See, I really enjoyed this film, although I guess I was prepared to overlook some of the flaws you found so glaring, Jess. Personally, i thought the chemistry between Ewan and Emily worked for me, and I was pleasantly surprised at just how much so. But I can see how many might find it hard to get past Ewan’s characters’ more….. walled-off personality.

    No, I thought it a sweet little piece, well worth at least one look for the softly spoken romantic in us all.

    Still think Hallstrom’s best Hollywood flick has been Chocolat.

    Rodney Twelftree

    September 13, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    • I liked Ewan’s character well enough. It was this idea that they shoudl switch partners so easily that bothered me a bit. But from other comments it seems to have made more sense in the novel. I remember liking Chocolat as I watched it, but I don’t remember a thing from it. I wonder if that might be a bad sign?


      September 14, 2012 at 11:38 pm

  8. Haven’t seen this, but My Life as a Dog is one of my favorite Swedish films. Sadly Hallström has made one disappointment after another for me since then. His latest one “The Hypnotist” was just announced as Sweden’s entry to next year’s Oscars, so hopefully it’s a return to form.

    Bonjour Tristesse

    September 14, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    • It’s been quite a few years since I watched My Life as a Dog, but I remember loving it. And we were all very proud when he went to Hollywood and apparently succeded fairly well over there.

      I’m not too hopeful about The Hypnotist I’m afraid. It’s a crime film; what can you expect? But I will definitely go and see it nevertheless.


      September 14, 2012 at 11:40 pm

  9. Really great review, Jessica. Just saw this not long ago, and I agree with many of your points. I didn’t so much mind the pairing of MacGregor and Blunt, but I hated the mechanical wrench they threw in regarding the “reappearance” of Blunt’s new boyfriend. The film otherwise flowed naturally and was easy-going enough, but that third-act just seemed fishy (sorry, I had to).

    I’m a fan of Hallstrom as well. He’s a usually reliable director-for-hire.


    September 14, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    • Thanks Dave! I agree completely with you about the reappearance. It felt rushed. It really dropped a bit towards the end.
      Still: of course I remain a fan of Hallström. I’m positive he can do better.


      September 14, 2012 at 11:43 pm

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