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Movie Review: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Posted by gck Wednesday, February 29, 2012

…or, a night with Ewan McGregor. Yep, that’s right.

I usually don’t bother with Gofobo screenings. I get the invites and they usually don’t work out with my schedule because they’re sent so close to the day of the screening. They’re also commonly in Seattle and it’s a big hassle because I have to get over there, wait in line, and not be guaranteed a seat. But for last night’s screening, the e-mail mentioned that there would be a Q&A with Ewan McGregor afterwards, and SIFF has turned me into a sucker for Q&A. In fact, SIFF was definitely involved in this screening. The person who introduced Ewan McGregor and fielded questions was from SIFF, and I noticed that some people were getting in with SIFF passes, probably people with higher membership levels than mine.

The screening started at 8. My last experience with Gofobo was that they would let people in 30 minutes before, and if you showed up a little before that, you’d get a seat, probably a bad seat. So I figured about an hour before for this one. Fortunately, my friend Alexis, who was interested in seeing Ewan McGregor because she had just seen and enjoyed Perfect Sense, showed up an hour and a half early, and I joined her in line not long after that. We barely got in. They stopped letting people in and told us in the front that there might be seats for us, but they’d have to wait and see. A few people made the cutoff behind us, and that was it. But the good news was that we got to sit in the press seats! Couldn’t ask for better seats, and we weren’t far from where Ewan ended up sitting. Alexis went to the restroom, came back, and was trying to get past some people in the aisle. She said, “Excuse me,” looked down at the person in the seat next to the aisle, and it was Ewan McGregor! He had come in while she was gone.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
USA, 2012
Genre: Comedy, Romance, Drama
Watched: in theater, Pacific Place
Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5)

The movie first. I had skimmed the few existing reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and they went about 50-50. So I went in with low expectations, and that worked out well. The movie is based on a novel by the same name, and it’s about a scientist who ends up working on a rich sheik’s crazy dream project to bring salmon to the deserts of Yemen. Along the way, he grows from being a facts-and-figures man to one who embraces the necessity of faith in life. As much as they might present this film as a drama, it’s really a romantic comedy, which means there aren’t any surprises except perhaps around the credibility of the plot events.

The good news is that it’s quite enjoyable to watch. It’s a strong crew of actors, and both Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt are quite funny in general. Amr Waked did a particularly good job in the role of the sheik. Kristen Scott Thomas’s character as the Prime Minister’s bitchy head of PR was just a one-dimensional beg for laughs, but it worked in our theater. There was a lot of poking fun at government incompetence, which appealed both to the audience and to McGregor, who said afterwards in the Q&A that he wasn’t a political person and wanted nothing to do with party politics (when someone asked him about his feelings on Scottish independence).

In the Q&A, there wasn’t too much about the film specifically. It was more like a “Getting to know Ewan McGregor” session. While we were waiting in line, one of the staff said that he was charismatic and aware of it. This was true and made for quite an entertaining Q&A session. He gave long, humorous, yet genuine answers to many of the questions, and at the end when the host was ready to call it a night, he asked for more questions because he was having so much fun. Don’t worry, all of the required movies were mentioned. He brought up Trainspotting, and audience members asked about Moulin Rouge and Star Wars. He mentioned that he picked roles by how he felt when reading through the script, if it was like a gripping book that he didn’t want to end because he enjoyed it so much. He also preferred to play roles that he hadn’t played before, and he enjoyed playing parts that challenged him to grow as an actor.

About the film: no fish were harmed in its production, of course. The dead fish that appeared in a shot was bought dead. He and Emily Blunt made each other laugh so much that you can sometimes see that one of them is about to crack up when the camera moves away. The example he gave was his line, “The water in the woman’s well is cold,” which just sounds a bit dirty, and she barely contains her laughter.

I now regret missing Beginners at SIFF even more! Not only did it turn out to be a great film, Ewan McGregor did a Q&A for that one, too. Ah well. We’ll see what SIFF 2012 brings!


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