The kind of worldly and sophisticated comedy that is hard to find. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen has two eggheads in love, played by Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt. Only problem is that they are attached to others. Fortunately, they are commissioned to transport fishing salmon to the desert of Yemen by the extremely wealthy Sheikh Muhammed (Amr Waked), meaning that the shared duty will bring them closer together. McGregor gets to play a bashful and eccentric scientist whose only burden is that he is self-controlled by good manners. Blunt is an idealistic careerist who is reticent in focusing on a romantic life. But he is married to a self-centered woman, and she is dating a soldier stationed in Afghanistan.
This is an irresistibly plum romantic match-up if you like these stars. McGregor gets to do another one of his nice guy roles, like we’ve seen in “Moulin Rouge!” (2001), “Big Fish” (2003) and “Beginners” (2011). He’s even got the insecure body language right, playing a guy who has never chosen love for himself (his wife is nearly a harridan). For Blunt, she’s the sweet but brainy catch we’ve seen in “Dan in Real Life” (2007), “Gulliver’s Travels” (2010) and “The Adjustment Bureau” (2011). To avoid their guilty feelings, they tell themselves they are only friends. But when one confides in another in a deeper way, the flirtatious sparks fly.
In the key supporting role, the Sheikh is a one-of-a-kind character of magnanimity and eccentricity. Waked deserves a best supporting actor nomination for next year’s Oscars, but probably won’t get one. Waked, without hardly trying, becomes the young couples’ guru. By using words of symbolic suggestion, he nudges the boy and girl closer together. It’s nicely done. The other noteworthy supporting role is Kristen Scott Thomas as the prime minister’s head of public relations, and the veteran actress relishes the part of an aggressive political spin doctor.
Tender and smart are the not the kind of words to lure in audiences at large for a romantic drama (with comedy in it). But do you really want more romantic dramas that are vulgar and reckless instead? What is also nice about the movie are its British locations with the contrasting locations in the daunting but tantalizing deserts of Yemen. There is some poked humor at the turbulent political climate between countries as well. All such ingredients are deftly juggled by director Lasse Hallstrom (“My Life as a Dog,” “The Cider House Rules,” “Chocolat”). Precious, nice and sweet, and even funny in that old-fashioned way we saw in Ernst Lubitsch and Preston Sturges movies more than a half century ago.
112 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
ROMANTIC DRAMA / MILD & CHARMING / SCENIC LOCALES
Film Cousins: “Ball of Fire” (1941); “Map of the Human Heart (1993); “Chocolat” (2000); “Possession” (2002).