Fisherman’s Friends exclusively performs traditional sea shanties, which I had assumed would become tiresome, but they give the film a distinct and charming voice - much like the group. The songs are often performed a cappella or with minimal instrumentation, allowing the powerful harmonies to shine. In fact, the vocals are a blend of real-life group members and the actors portraying them. There’s some creative liberty taken regarding just how well-known these songs are, for instance, one scene depicts several dozen Londoners easily recalling every verse of ‘(What Shall We Do With The) Drunken Sailor’. Yet this occurs late in the film, after viewers have already seen that these songs are intended to unite people and be sung together. Besides, the cast have so much fun you’ll enjoy the musical moments regardless of whether you know the words.
Similarly, I found the performances and humour made it easy to look past the story’s clichés, especially the romantic subplot between Danny and Alwyn (Tuppence Middleton), the woman who runs his B&B. The pair’s arc is obvious from their first encounter, in which she calls him a tosser for driving the wrong way down a one-way street. Following Danny’s earnest attempts to record a demo for the group, Alwyn begins to open up and realise their similarities. It’s as simple as it sounds but works thanks to the palpable chemistry between Mays and Middleton, who trade teasing barbs which perfectly capture the feeling of talking to a crush. Yes, it’s another fish-out-of-water trope, and FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS is all the better for embracing it.
James Purefoy is another standout as Jim, the de facto group leader and Alwyn’s father (because of course). Purefoy is essentially playing the same grizzled mentor role James Coburn perfected in Snow Dogs, constantly stating his distaste for Danny’s outside influence while warming up to him. For instance, Jim invites Danny out for a nightcap only to abruptly leave once the latter tries to start a conversation. I’m a big fan of Snow Dogs, but felt FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS improved on this character archetype by making Jim’s development less subtle. He’s surprisingly quick to accept Danny’s plans for the group and is even willing to travel outside Port Isaac to impress label executives. As a result, Purefoy is utterly charming despite looking so pissed off for much of the film.
However, the writers can’t help but undo the main characters’ development in the film's final 15-minutes, which leaves FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS treading water. Without spoiling too much, a subplot that previously seemed inconsequential is awkwardly pushed into focus and sees the villagers, including Danny’s new friends and girlfriend, turn on him. It’s as if someone decided the film needed to be longer and needed to put off the inevitable happy ending for a little longer. After suspending my disbelief for most of the runtime, this was the first time the story felt contrived to me. Thankfully, it still ends exactly as you’d expect and can’t sour the film’s overall impression. Whether you’re looking for a breezy and fun comedy, a biopic, or a stunning and unique soundtrack, I thoroughly recommend FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS.