By Gary M. Kramer.
Wild Mountain Thyme does provide some simple pleasures but suggests that Shanley is a far better writer than director.”
John Patrick Shanley is well known as the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Moonstruck, and better known as the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of Doubt, for which he also won a Tony Award. Despite penning screenplays for films as varied as Five Corners, Alive, and Congo, he has only directed three films in his career: Joe Versus the Volcano (1990); the screen version of Doubt (2008) – which earned him another Oscar nomination; and now Wild Mountain Thyme, which is adapted from his 2014 Tony-nominated play, Outside Mullingar.
The film version certainly “opens up” the drama from the stage; it was shot in County Mayo, Ireland, and Shanley includes sweeping aerial shots of the lush, green landscape. This romantic drama involves two neighboring farms and families. Rosemary Muldoon (Emily Blunt) and her mother, Aoife (Dearbhla Molloy, reprising her stage role) live on one property; Anthony Reilly (Jamie Dornan) and his father Tony (Christopher Walken) live on the other. There are two gates separating the land, which Rosemary owns following a dispute from when she and Anthony were children.
Wild Mountain Thyme is narrated by Tony, who states, “If an Irishman dies while he’s telling a story… you can rest assured he’ll be back.” It’s disconcerting not because Walken’s character is dead, but because his accent fades in and out (as does Blunt’s and even Dornan’s from time to time throughout the film). Tony recounts how Rosemary has long been besotted with Anthony, who seems to be unaware of her strong feelings. Anthony loves the land – perhaps more than people it seems, save his father. Yet, Tony is considering willing the farm to his American nephew, Adam (Jon Hamm), a New York money manager. Perhaps, if Anthony were to propose to Rosemary, Tony would change his mind.
The story is slight, and arguably a riff on the Moonstruck love triangle, where a woman falls for her fiance’s brother. Here, Rosemary is wooed by Adam, perhaps as a way to attract Tony’s attention. But even if the film presents romantic ideas against realism, and characters declaring their love for each other in the rain, there is a considerable amount of blarney here.
The film’s comedy consists of corny bits such as those involving “Bad News” Cleary (Barry McGovern) – named for delivering bad news whenever he appears – who makes fun of Anthony after he catches the young man practicing his proposal to Rosemary by talking to a donkey. The broad humor in these moments is meant to be gentle and charming, but like Anthony’s pratfalls from a rowboat while fishing, or slipping on a grassy hill, they come off as obvious and unfunny.
Shanley has a better command of the language. Wild Mountain Thyme bristles to life whenever Rosemary is forceful – verbally sparring with Tony, flirting with Adam, or during an extended scene with Anthony where she is determined to make him see how much she loves him. Blunt plays Rosemary as a wild (read: tough) Irish rose, and, accent issues aside, she leans into the character, especially during a scene where she appeals to Tony’s emotions by performing the song that gives the film its title. (Tony’s mother sang it “’til she conquered the house,” he recounts).
Wild Mountain Thyme, however, only rarely generates much in the way of emotion. One of the few touching scenes has Tony on his deathbed having a heart-to-heart chat with Anthony. Walken is such a great actor that he can pull this moment off (again, accent aside). Another strong moment is practically a throwaway scene. Anthony goes out drinking in a bar and meets Eleanor (Lydia McGuinness), a stranger. They scale a wall and trade deep dark secrets – hers is as amusing for being scandalous; his is whispered. But this scene displays the kind of verve the whole film should have.
Alas, the chemistry between Rosemary and Anthony never quite hits that level, which the film needs for the romance to work. Blunt and Dornan are gorgeous actors, but there is not enough heat between them. In contrast, a sequence where Rosemary visits Adam in New York – she wants to see Swan Lake and size the American up – as more friction than most of the exchanges between Rosemary and Anthony. Even the banter between Adam and Maeve (Danielle Ryan), who share a transatlantic flight, ignites more sparks of attraction.
The characters all talk about happiness and love but watching them struggle to find both is oddly joyless. The film may hark back to the Irish storytelling tradition, and it feels old-fashioned in the sense that it is outdated. (The film might have been better if it had been set decades ago.)
Wild Mountain Thyme does provide some simple pleasures but suggests that Shanley is a far better writer than director.
Gary M. Kramer writes about film for Salon, Cineaste, Gay City News, Philadelphia Gay News, The San Francisco Bay Times, and Film International. He is the author of Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews, and the co-editor of Directory of World Cinema: Argentina, Volumes 1 & 2.