Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen vs. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, two British feel-good flicks about attempts to introduce new species (salmon, old white people) into unfamiliar habitats (Yemen, India).
Premise In Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Ewan McGregor plays a charmingly befuddled British fisheries scientist who’s approached by a consultant (Emily Blunt) to a Yemeni sheik, who wants to introduce fly-fishing to the Yemeni desert. He’s reluctant to do it, for reasons that should be obvious, but ends up getting caught up in it anyway—and then they fall in love! Also, Kristin Scott Thomas is in it, doing something the trailer doesn’t entirely make clear. She’s a journalist or a politician, maybe? It seems like her job is mostly to make faces into her smartphone. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel concerns a group of elderly Brits who decide to spend their golden years in the titular resort, which is run by Dev Patel and which turns out in real life to be quite different from the palatial, luxurious locale they were promised in the brochure. But once they’ve arrived and settled in, they variously prove true that old movie chestnut: exotic places exist mostly to teach white people more about themselves (see also: Eat, Pray, Love). We’re going with Salmon Fishing on this one, just because its premise is so deeply weird. Plus, Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty, Slumdog Millionaire) wrote it. Advantage: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Cast We really, really like both Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt, and the prospect of watching them bicker and spar and eventually fall in love for two hours is a bright spot on our spring calendar. And Kristin Scott Thomas is great, too! But they can’t compete with the credentials held by the British acting powerhouses of Marigold Hotel: Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy. Plus Tom Wilkinson, who isn’t really British, but we’re letting it slide. And Dev Patel! Advantage: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Title We’re already cringing at the prospect of having to say either of these titles out loud to a ticket-taker. (How did people see badly-named movies before Fandango?) We can’t award any points here at all. Advantage: Tie
Director These two directors’ credentials are remarkably similar: Lasse Hallström (Salmon Fishing) has been nominated for three Oscars, for The Cider House Rules and My Life as a Dog, but has never won; John Madden (Marigold Hotel) was nominated once, for Shakespeare in Love. Each has 11 other prominent wins at festivals and such to his name. Some of Hallström’s other notable credits include What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Shipping News, Chocolat, and The Cider House Rules (and, uh, Dear John), while Madden has also directed Proof, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, and The Debt. An even match if ever there was one! Advantage: Tie
Gentle Humor Based on their trailers, at least, both of these films seem to be the kind you could watch with your parents without anyone getting uncomfortable. Salmon Fishing starts off strong with the always-classic “Ewan McGregor walks into a glass door” gag at 0:27, makes a solid Lady Gaga reference (it has to be, right?) at 0:46, and fits in a “Kristin Scott Thomas makes a goofy fly-casting gesture” at 1:01. As for Marigold Hotel, the old Brits know a thing or two about cracking wise, too: “If I can’t pronounce it, I don’t want to eat it,” Maggie Smith grumps at 0:33, a joke called back at 1:52 when she ruins a lovely, touching moment by again refusing to eat. But we’re a little put off by all the death jokes—”Did I nod off?” at 2:06 and “If she dies, she dies” at 2:28. And the funniest moment in either of these trailers, which wins it for Salmon Fishing, isn’t actually, we don’t think, an intentional joke—at 1:15, when McGregor says forlornly, “When things get tricky in my life, I talk to my fish.” Advantage: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
The Verdict By a hair, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen wins it. Wilkinson’s little speech in Marigold Hotel about everything that’s great about India (“the light, colors, smiles—it teaches me something!”) kind of set off our Edward Said sensors. We’re also not sure we’re ready to witness actors this beloved coming to grips with their mortality—that means we’ll have to, too! Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor are gonna live forever, right? Right? Winner: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
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