Review: Fisherman’s Friends

Review: Fisherman’s Friends

by Alan Grant
article from Friday 22, March, 2019

WITH A TITLE like Fisherman’s Friends hilarity cannot be far away, surely? It's a movie title that really opens itself up for some, if not particularly original, gags – mostly revolving around the fact that it can refer to this movie, a peculiar kind of aniseed-flavoured sweet, and a literal person. 

Well yes, it can, because by its own lofty ambitions to be a comedy film, Fisherman’s Friends is not very successful at being particularly funny. 

In fact, it doesn’t succeed at very much at all.

The plot revolves around the real-life story of a group of Cornish fishermen who became unlikely music stars thanks to their unlikely partnership with slick and cynical London record executive Danny (Danny Mays). The film follows this cadre of blokes as they navigate the tricky world of the entertainment business, deal with the clash of the old and the new, find love, deal with death, learn about what’s important in life, and generally fill all the boxes on the standard character development arc. 

It’s all very by the numbers.

I hope that I’ve made it pretty clear that this review isn’t likely to come down on the side of Fisherman’s Friends – more on that imminently – but it would be remiss of me not to mention that I find their real-life story to be an endearing one and, as someone of East Lothian fishing stock myself, I have an admiration for who they are and what they do as people. They’re all great and I wish them all the best for the future.

It’s too bad that this isn’t a column about the benefits of the fishing industry but instead an appraisal of the quality of this particular film – because it sucks!

It’s spectacularly unfunny with most of the comic beats falling flat or being the kind of groaning attempts at wit or insight that should have been left in an aspiring writer’s notebook. Even those comedy moments that do land are more like a soggy Last of the Summer Wine than anything approaching laugh-out-loud funny meaning that the whole effort feels stuck in time and out of place in today’s palatial multiplex cinemas.

To be fair, this isn’t really a problem with the cast, most of whom put in at least a half-way decent performance, with praise due in particular to Tuppance Middleton, James Purefoy, and David Hayman who give the movie quite a bit of its warm heart. The problem here is simply a bad script that blends cheesy clamours for laughs with confusing character motivations and developments into a finished product that just doesn’t stack up.

Upon further consideration, Fishermen’s Friends is a film that is let down by its script in many ways but there are two primary failures.

The first is that it fails to capitalise on the points in its story arc that should dominate the film. There is a character death that could have had impact but is treated as if it were the set up to a joke that someone forgot to finish. The entire third act is so rushed and lacking in weight that it gives the impression that the writers came up with how to put it out of its misery on a Friday just before the end of the working day and each and every emotionally charged moment or real chance to make the audience laugh is either missed out on or messed up.

Secondly, the writing is a thematic mess and riddled with the cliché that usually brings. Danny’s narrative, revolves around him learning the lesson that the wisdom of the ‘aw shucks’, salt of the earth, down home, fisherfolk is just inherently better than anything his flashy cosmopolitan lifestyle can teach him. Danny’s laddish London pals are presented as such swaggering, cliched, panto villains with Blackberries and lattés in hand, it gives the feeling that the writers learned everything they know about London by watching reruns of The New Statesman intercut with scenes an unfinished cut of Green Street. It undermines the main ‘villains’ of the piece and ruins what stakes there were.

There is also an all-consuming theme of nostalgia running through the script which undermines its credibility. The absolute low-point of the whole thing occurs during a mini-rant from Middleton’s Alwyn in which she bemoans the quality of modern music storage in favour of a nostalgic lecture about the benefits of vinyl. It is a ham-fisted attempt to reassure the audience that, “Of course things were better back in the old days. These young ‘uns don’t know nothing about nothing and you’re fear of the modern world is right”. It’s pretty pathetic really.

Fisherman’s Friends can’t possibly be recommended as a movie in its own right. It’s a dull hack of a movie – exemplified by the moment in which one of the characters actually makes a “you can always suck on fisherman’s friend joke”… However, if all you want to do is revisit the story of the nice fishermen who got into the charts, then I guess it’ll do, but you must set your standards higher in future. 

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