You almost always know what you’re going to get with movies like “Fisherman’s Friends”. They’re pretty reliable when it comes to sticking to formula and rarely will you find a surprise moment or unexpected twist. Most of the time they either sink or swim based on their heart, charm, and ability to make you care about their characters. Director Chris Foggin’s tale of shanty-singing sea dogs turned Top 40 music sensations has those necessary ingredients plus some.
Based on a true story but incorporating a lot of fiction, “Fisherman’s Friends” is a small-town drama, romantic comedy, musical biography, and underdog story all neatly wrapped into one movie. The writing trio of Nick Moorcroft, Meg Leonard and Piers Ashworth take the bare basics of the true account and build their own story around them. Their by-the-book plotting squash any chance of originality, but the colorful characters, the rich personality of its setting, and the film’s warm-hearted center more than makes up for it.
Set in 2010 Daniel Mays plays Danny, a hotshot London music executive on a weekend getaway with his three obnoxious buddies. While passing through the small village of Port Isaac they overhear a group of ten Cornish fisherman singing shanties for the locals. One thing leads to another and soon Danny is trying to convince the Fisherman’s Friends (as the seamen affectionately call themselves) to let him be their manager and negotiate a record deal.
In order to get the group onboard Danny will have to convince their spokesman Jim (James Purefoy). He’s a fisherman who also owns the town Bed and Breakfast with his daughter Alwyn (a terrific Tuppence Middleton). Despite leaving a rotten first impression, Danny soon finds himself more interested in winning over Alwyn than her father. So the big city guy becomes the proverbial ‘fish out of water’, soon finding himself lured in by the small town’s charm (and by one particularly lovely single mother). And he grows even more committed to seeing the shanty crooners strike it big.
From that brief snippet alone you can probably guess how things play out. And the Hallmarkian predictability really kicks in during a final act which you’ve seen a million times before – the guy gets in good with the girl, royally screws things up, realizes he can’t live without the girl, and then sets out to make things right. Plotwise you literally see everything coming a mile away.
Yet there is an endearing warmth that Foggin captures, both from the characters and the village itself (it was filmed on location in Port Isaac). The fun and delightful cast are essential to the film’s tight-knit communal feel. Middleton avoids numerous trappings and gives us a woman with real mettle. Purefoy brings emotional depth and is more than just an overly protective father or surly sailor. And you can’t help but love veteran Scottish actor David Hayman playing the gravelly-voiced but tender-hearted Jago.
With its irresistible mix of feel-good vibes, infectious musical numbers, great rapport and playful humor, “Fisherman’s Friends” makes the formulaic storytelling pretty easy to overlook. It ends up being a smile-inducing pleasure built around a genuinely remarkable true story. And I’m still giggling at “Reservoir Sea Dogs“. I’ll let you watch the movie and discover that nugget for yourself. “Fisherman’s Friends” premieres this Friday on VOD.
VERDICT – 3.5 STARS