Fisherman’s Friends

Port Isaac, Cornwall. A bunch of media types from That London are on a stag week-end. They’re supposed to be yachting, but somehow the yacht has gone missing. So instead they go surfing and get themselves stranded. While they are being hauled out of the water, they see a group of fishermen singing on the seashore.

Danny is told by his boss (Noel Clarke, who I guess is supposed to be US-American, but is using an accent that has never before been used by a real human being) to sign them up for a record contract. As Danny wanders over, the others get in their car and drive back to London without him. And his boss didn’t really want to sign them. Who’d be interested in a load of ageing fishermen? That’s the sort of prank they play on each other in the music business. What are they like?

Danny is happy to stay, as he’s set his eyes on Alwyn, the local single mother. After Alwyn’s first encounter with Danny, she calls him both a “tosser” and a “wanker” (which, strangely enough, are both rendered as “Wichser” in the German subtitles). When he comes and asks for a room, she says they’ve nowhere free, despite the big Vacancies sign outside. For reasons of Plot, she relents and offers him a bed, which comes with a free glass of water in the face as an early morning alarm call.

Inevitably, by the next scene Alwyn is driving Danny around in her cheap French car, and soon lets him flick through her record collection (LPs, natch, as the film goes out of its way to contrast nasty fake London with old-fashioned authenticity). Why does she do this? Well, its because that’s how people behave in Films Like This. There’s no need for exposition when you can save time by just unquestioningly following the old conventions.

So, we walk almost blindfold through a plot that would have been marked as full of holes, had anyone been bothered reading it through. The locals intensely mistrust strangers, but somehow warm to Danny, who embodies everything they hate. They can’t possibly leave their boats and then are suddenly free for a jolly in London (where there is an inevitable joke about a pint of beer being expensive). Danny’s mobile phone is only able to make outgoing calls from one particular place in the village, but the increasingly frantic London Types can ring and reach him just about anywhere.

Despite the general lack of ambition, the film is not quite sure whether or not it wants to uncritically celebrate the old way of life. The Cornish singers don’t hold with anything with the slightest touch of modernity, yet get their big break through a youtube clip. There is a laboured subplot which is resolved with the old truism that no problem is too big if you have a lot of money and a big flat in London. The characters occasionally have serious fights, but have made up before we get the chance to get our breath, and think about what is happening.

The politics are a strange Cornish nationalist pro-Proper Work ethos that doesn’t like those smarmy London business people, and treats being a Poor Cornish Fisherman as the Platonic ideal of authenticity. So where did Alwyn get an accent that sounds like she went to an elite finishing school?

It also leaves little place for women. The film actually passes the Bechdel test – there is a female record executive who exchanges a couple of sentences with one of her underlings – but this is a film about what men do when they are together: first the London executives, all hair gel and sunglasses, and then the more salt of the Earth fishermen. The role of women is to stay in the background cooking and cleaning and occasionally being available as a love interest to help one of the men through his mid-life crisis.

It claims to be based on a true story, which it is to an extent, but the truly interesting story – of middle aged men achieving chart success and playing Glastonbury singing sea shanties – is pushed way into the background. Instead it is all about the uninteresting first world problems of the fictional Danny, who is based on no-one but a thousand clichéd male film roles that precede him.

The film isn’t bad. It is actually well acted and the songs are pretty good. And, as is normal for a film like this, there are lots of lingering shots of the local landscape. There is nothing here that offends, which is precisely the problem. Inoffensiveness may make for successful feelgood banalaties, but it adds nothing for dramatic tension, or interest.

Anyone who gets why “Brassed Off” was ten times as good as “The Full Monty” should stay away. But if you like a little blandness in your life, feel free to give it a go.

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