Synopsis: A fast living, cynical London music executive heads to a remote Cornish village on a stag weekend where he’s pranked by his boss into trying to sign a group of shanty singing fishermen.
Stars: Daniel Mays, James Purefoy, David Hayman, Dave Johns, Sam Swainsbury, Tuppence Middleton, Noel Clarke, Christian Brassington, Maggie Steed, Jade Anouka, Meadow Nobrega
Director: Chris Foggin
Running Length: 112 minutes
TMMM Score: (4/10)
Review: I’ve mentioned several times over the last few months that being cooped up inside and kept away from the bigger budgeted bombastic films in theaters has allowed me greater opportunity to enjoy smaller fare. It’s been grand having no excuse to miss tiny features that could have been overlooked in weeks when the latest franchise film was gearing up for release and being offered the kind of gems I was used to discovering long after they’d found their way onto streaming platforms. With that, I’ve also noticed the slightest loosening up of the critical approach at times, being a little too eager to overlook rough corners or treacly plot points in keeping with the spirit of positivity.
It’s movies like Fisherman’s Friends that help bring me back to reality though, films that remind you that even the best intentions have consequences and it’s perfectly ok to throw back what the cinematic sea giveth. The dam started to break with Military Wives which pushed the limits of how much forced saccharine an audience can handle but the filmmakers behind the similar true-life story found in Fisherman’s Friends run their boat ashore early on and never can get back in the water. Though it wants to have that cheeky charm that kept The Full Monty or Calendar Girls feeling so fresh, it winds up smelling like catch of the day that’s sat in the sun too long.
On a bachelor weekend in the tiny seaside town of Port Isaac, London-based Danny (Daniel Mays, 1917) and his fellow music exec mates don’t make the best first impression on Jim (James Purefoy, John Carter), his daughter Alwyn (Tuppence Middleton, Downton Abbey), and the rest of the hard-working blue collar townspeople that frequent the local watering hole. Loud and obnoxious, the stag party does minimal damage to the Cornish town and is about to wrap up their weekend when they hear the weekly performance of the town fishermen singing shanties by the seashore. As a joke, his boss (a member of the bro weekend) convinces Danny he wants to sign the group to their record label and quickly leaves him stranded to figure out how to talk a bunch of gruff sea-goers into becoming the next boy band.
As you can likely guess if you’ve ever seen any movie that carried the “feel-good” label, the longer Danny stays in Port Isaac, the more he gets to know the townspeople as greater than just their prickly exterior and the less they see him as a posh snob. Friendships are formed among unlikely comrades, romance blooms between individuals that once couldn’t stand each other, and loyalties are royally tested in a neat and tidy (if arguably overlong) package. The triumvirate of screenwriters is made up of Nick Moorcroft, Meg Leonard and Piers Ashworth and none can help director Chris Foggin find the right key that would help the movie play a tune we haven’t heard numerous times before.
The biggest issue I had with the film is that maybe I found the group severely lacking in charm. The first time the men raise their voices in song, the crowd onscreen seems to love it but I was left scratching my head wondering what all the fuss was about. Not for nothing but there are a handful of scenes featuring others having the same reaction I did. The ribald and raunchy old tyme ditties are good for a laugh but they wear thin quickly and fade from memory even faster. I never connected with why Danny is so obsessed with pursuing them into the limelight. It’s like hearing about a great dancer with fabulous technique only to watch someone gamely get through the Electric Slide without injuring themselves.
If the IMDb pages are to be believed, a sequel is planned for March 2021 but with the pandemic who knows if that has thrown things out of whack. I’d have been more in favor of a documentary about the real men involved with the group instead of this hokey-pokey dramatization that sells whatever charisma they had short. As a Sunday watch while completing the 1,000 piece puzzle that’s been gathering dust on your table, Fisherman’s Friends might be good background noise but as the main event selection for an evening’s entertainment, you’ll be better off dropping anchor somewhere else.