Trailer Trash: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
By Samuel Hoelker
March 27, 2012
Isn’t it the worst when you see a trailer for a movie that you’re looking forward to and it’s, well, a piece of crap? Sometimes it turns out that the movie is actually fantastic and just the victim of a bad trailer (such as 21 Jump Street), and sometimes that movie is just a flop (such as Jeff Who Lives At Home). I’ll be saving you that risk from now on, as I’ll be checking out the films with the lousiest trailers and seeing whether it’s just poor editing that made the trailer terrible, or if no amount of editing could make it good. Today’s study: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.
The trailer begins with e-mail correspondence between Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor, with the former asking the latter if her wealthy client could feasibly go salmon fishing in the Yemen River (always described as “the Yemen”, making me believe for the entire film that calling Yemen “the Yemen” was a British thing). Ewan McGregor sternly turns her down, but he gets his comeuppance because he runs into a wall. Then Kristin Scott Thomas comes in, securing the 55+ audience, and realizes that she needs a good PR story about the Middle East. She decides to make it a political matter, much to Ewan McGregor’s chagrin. Then come the inspirational quotes on screen.
It seems that immediately, Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt’s wealthy sheik client become best friends, and that Ewan McGregor’s going to learn the importance of faith, since he didn’t believe that he could bring about the salmon fishing in the Yemen. Then Emily Blunt finds out that Ewan McGregor is unhappy in his life, and sometimes must go against the norm by walking against a group of people, which is an allegory for both salmon and lazy writing. He and Emily Blunt discuss the project with dialogue that also has a double meaning about their budding relationship, which they both acknowledge instead of letting the audience figure out that simple piece of information themselves. And then – ooh man! – it looks like Ewan McGregor might actually start believing in faith after all! The trailer ends with a montage set to The Fray.
If you’ve been playing along at home and counting the number of times something I’ve said in the past two paragraphs piqued your interest, I’ll bet you’ve written nothing.
Outside of the upcoming Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (and I’m sure I’ll be talking about that in the beginning of May), I can’t think of a safer film for the middle-aged-to-senior-citizen-semi-regular-art-house crowd. The trailer has it all – an uncomplicated love story, white people coming in to save the day in a poor country (after all, it’s got the same screenwriter as Slumdog Millionaire), Kristin Scott Thomas. That’s all some movie-goers are going for, but remember that those are the people that are fine with the Best Picture winners of the past two years as well.
To be fair, there’s not much really at fault with Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. McGregor and Blunt’s love story is as basic and chaste as it is in the trailer, but at the very least there are some complications (McGregor is unhappily married, Blunt’s dating someone fighting overseas). Kristin Scott Thomas gets to speak in English for the first time in a while, and is enough of a spitfire to both satisfy the whims of the film’s target audience as well as not make her as superfluous as she could have been, at least from what the trailer showed. And outside of a misplaced scene or two, there’s no violent conflict that you would expect in a West meets Middle East film, which, in a perfect movie, would take this grand concept for a film and make it small and personal.
Instead, it’s blown up to show its impact on more than just McGregor and Blunt, but not in the global sense that it should be – it’s in limbo. Movies like this often end up in an uncomfortable middle ground like that – for the sake of its audience, it’s not going to go into controversial waters, but it will dip its toes in to make them feel, I suppose, that they’ve done some good for the world in the pre-Internet days. It’s their Kony 2012.
Despite this pandering, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen never stops being generally pleasant. Its middle-of-the-road-ness never detracts from its story being told competently, and it’s especially the chemistry between McGregor and Blunt that pulls the movie through. While it can’t elevate the film onto a level that would really make it a “good” film, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a perfectly cromulent one – probably the best film that could come out of a trailer like that.