Review by Sean Boelman
Underdog stories based on true stories are a dime a dozen, but ultimately, it’s a tried-and-true genre that works, so as long as audiences keep rooting along, filmmakers will keep bringing them to the screen. Chris Foggin’s new musical comedy Fisherman’s Friends is an uplifting crowd-pleaser that is conventional but mostly effective in its approach nevertheless.
Based on a true story, the movie follows a music manager who, as the victim of a prank, finds himself working with a group of singing fishermen who perform sea shanties for their community. It hits all of the beats of the traditional musical rags-to-riches tale in an expected way, but the charm of the characters goes a long way in making the film more enjoyable.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the movie is that it focuses too much on the manager and not enough on the eponymous unorthodox boy band. The protagonist has a compelling arc, but none of the other characters show substantial growth. Additionally, the focus on the romantic subplot is often frustrating.
The film does a very good job of building the group dynamic that exists between the fishermen, but a lot is left on the table in terms of these characters. For example, the group’s leader struggles with his daughter (who also happens to be the protagonist’s love interest), yet this subplot is left mostly undeveloped.
And when the movie does attempt to elicit more of an emotional reaction, it often feels forced and telegraphed. Perhaps by trying too hard to force the true story to fit the conventions of the genre, the writers lose a lot of the authenticity and humility that made the real-life group so successful in the first place.
That said, the actors all do a very solid job in their roles. James Purefoy, playing against type, is very charismatic in his role and gives what is perhaps the most nuanced performance in the film. Daniel Mays is quite funny as the lead, holding his own against the more experienced character actors in the ensemble. David Hayman is also an absolute joy to watch.
Arguably the best sequences in the movie are those that allow the stars to perform uninterrupted. Too often, these sea shanties are cut off by a joke, but they have merit in their own right. It’s much more entertaining to hear them being sung than to have them being ridiculed. The picturesque scenery of the Cornish coast also works to the film’s advantage.
Fisherman’s Friends admittedly doesn’t hold a lot of surprises, but herein lies much of its appeal. It’s a wholesome, well-acted, and entertaining watch, and this is often exactly what audiences are asking for.
Fisherman’s Friends hits VOD on July 24.