Fisherman’s Friends

Attending a stag weekend with his two London music management firm coworkers and boss Troy (Noel Clarke), Danny (Daniel Mays, "Vera Drake") is the very face of a clueless tourist in Port Isaac, Cornwall, where the group flouts traffic laws and needs rescuing by the local lifeboat volunteers.  When they wander into the town center and spy some of their rescuers singing traditional sea shanties, Danny’s shocked when Troy expresses interest in them and tasks him with signing them.  When they abandon him on the island Danny doesn’t get he’s being pranked, but his life will be transformed by the group that call themselves “Fisherman’s Friends.”

Laura's Review: B

Writers Piers Ashworth, Meg Leonard and Nick Moorcroft employ the much-used “Local Hero” template for their fictionalized true story and yet director Chris Foggin, blessed with a strong cast, keeps the twee at bay with genuine good heart and strong characterizations.  You may not have heard of the group at the center of this British import, but I suspect their CD sales may enjoy a bump if U.S. audiences give this one a chance.

The film grabs us from the get-go as the likes of Jago (David Hayman, "Sid and Nancy," "Blinded by the Light"), Leadville (Dave Johns, "I, Daniel Blake") and Rowan (Sam Swainsbury) harmonize while working on Jim’s (James Purefoy, "High-Rise") fishing boat, a pure demonstration of how ‘whistling while you work’ helps get the job done.  It’s Jim’s daughter and Jago’s granddaughter Alwyn (Tuppence Middleton, "Downton Abbey"), though, who has the first run-in with the Londoners when Danny asks the single mom to back up her car so they can continue down a narrow lane going the wrong way.  Referring to their vehicle as a ‘cock extension,’ Alwyn shows just what the locals think of moneyed arrogance.

She’ll have an equally flippant response in the Golden Lion pub when Danny inquires after her family’s traditional music, calling it the ‘rock ‘n roll of 1752.’  Barmaid Maggie (Maggie Steed) informs him that her Jago is ‘the Roger Daltry’ of the group, who laugh at Danny’s proposal and point him towards Jim as their mouthpiece.  Danny finds himself at a B&B run by Alwyn where he takes a room and begins to accustom himself to Cornwall life while befriending her daughter Tamsyn (Meadow Nobrega).      

There is romance, intrigue (Danny’s attempt to help Rowan out of financial difficulty by finding a buyer for the Golden Lion backfires badly) and fame and fortune to be found here, along with one truly moving loss.  And the film’s all the better for the initial resistance Danny meets on the road to signing the fisherman to a record label, Foggin flipping the ‘fish out of water’ script by having the working class lads becoming a much bigger hit in London (they energize an entire pub) than Danny’s crew were in Cornwall.                 

Mays is excellent in the Riegert role, separating himself from his obnoxious pack with humility and genuine appreciation for all that Cornwall has to offer.  His natural back and forth with Nobrega works to soften the obvious romantic interest that is Alwyn, Middleton also playing it right down the middle between tart exasperation and understanding kindness.  Hayman leads the local charm brigade, but the entire ensemble just works.  The singing is hugely engaging, Swainsbury’s quiet, emotive performance of ‘Widow Woman’ a real show stopper.  The film was shot on location right where the story happened, a significant plus.

Come in expecting corn, exit chuffed.  “Fisherman’s Friends” is like taking a holiday and meeting new friends.

Robin's Review: B

Danny (Daniel Mays) is a high-profile London music exec on a sabbatical to Port Isaac in Cornwall with his colleagues. When their weekend yachting plans fall through, his boss, Troy (Noel Clarke), pranks his underling, giving him the impossible task – sign up a group of indifferent shanty-singing seafarers to a recording contract for the “Fisherman’s Friends.”

What I expected here is something that crops up every few years – a “fish out of water” story of a man, or woman, thrust into a foreign land and succumbing to the charms of the locals. Films that meet this criteria, like “I Know Where I’m Going (1945)” and “Local Hero (1983),” resonate with viewers long after. I will frequently (or, used to, when we could still travel), upon coming home from a particularly good vacation, watch Bill Forsythe’s charming Local Hero” just to extend the contentment of a good time. That is what I hoped for with “Fisherman’s Friends” and, to a degree, find it.

While the whimsical and quirky charms of “Local Hero” are not as evident here, “Fisherman’s Friends,” once it gets past the similarities to the 1983 classic – both start with the radio playing and both are stranger in a strange land stories – finds its own flow. Then, we have the lusty men of the sea sing their lusty shanties and the film and the story solidly becomes its own.

Danny takes his boss’s demand to sign on the “old boy band” to heart and sets out to turn the distrusting town folk around and have the Fisherman’s Friends sign a contract. Then Troy tells him it was a joke and to get his ass back to London. Danny, though, sees something deeper and more meaningful in the singing fishermen’s music and he begins to champion their cause, going to the competition for help. Even there he meets with skepticism, until a video of the boys goes viral.

Besides the enjoyable songs - sung by both the actors portraying them and Friends themselves - there is also Danny’s story and how his time in Port Isaac changes him forever. There is that, but also the charms of a feisty local mom, Alwyn (Tuppence Middleton), and her daughter Sally (Mae Voogd), who steal his heart, play into it, too.

One thing that a film like “Local Hero” does is to make you want the hero, and by extension yourself, to go back to the idyllic place and spend the rest of your days. “Fisherman’s Friend” handles that nostalgia by making things turn out the way you want – happily ever after.