If you have trouble figuring out the century in which Wild Mountain Thyme takes place, I don’t think you’ll be alone. The latest film from writer/director John Patrick Shanley (Joe Versus the Volcano, Doubt, and the writer of Moonstruck) not only feels like a story out of time but out of the reality of Ireland—in particular, modern Ireland, which is (spoiler alert) when the film is actually set, despite its antiquated views on farm living and relationships between men and women. Based on the celebrated playwright’s play Outside Mullingar, Wild Mountain Thyme is the story of a man and woman living on adjacent Irish farms whose lives seem destined since they were children to come together in love.
The more headstrong and less dopey of the two is Rosemary Muldoon (Emily Blunt), who has pictured herself as a white swan after her father told her she reminded him of one. That belief has kept her feeling majestic but she’s tough and determined to win the heart of neighbor Anthony Reilly (Jamie Dornan), who’s a bit of a dolt—good looking, kindly but convinced he has inherited a family curse of mental instability. And he’s oblivious to Rosemary’s affections. He’s so much his (recently dead) mother’s son that his father Tony (Christopher Walken, sporting a terrifying Irish accent) is considering leaving the family farm to his American nephew Adam (Jon Hamm), whom he summons to discuss these matters, much to Anthony’s dismay and humiliation.
An even bigger issue is that the swarthy, rich and well-traveled Adam takes an interest in Rosemary, going so far as to invite her to New York City for a visit. She seems torn because Anthony is showing no real interest in her, even though she’s convinced they’ll eventually be together.
The issue with Shanley’s portrayal of these Irish characters is that they feel more like characters and less like three-dimensional people, with some knowledge of the world around them—they don’t have to want to be a part of it, but they should at least know what they’re saying no to. Not surprisingly, Rosemary is the only person in this film that in any way resembles an actual person. Blunt can’t help but see her character’s deficiencies on the page and flesh her out with air and blood and personality. She’s not a bumpkin, simply there to be seduced by Adam, but she’ll let him think she is to find out how interested he actually is in taking over the farm.
She does eventually take him up on his offer to come to New York, but she only books the trip for one day, and only wants to see the Black Swan ballet while she’s there. But she wants him to go with her, so there is a chance her thoughts of Anthony are slipping away. I guess technically, Wild Mountain Thyme is a romantic-comedy, but it takes its romance a little more seriously than most rom-coms tend to, while the overall tone of the movie is fairly lighthearted and funny. Dornan is especially good at being the butt of everyone’s jokes and feeling that deep down inside he might deserve being roasted.
The film peters out a bit in its final act, although an interesting exchange between Adam and a fellow passenger (Danielle Ryan) on the flight back over to Ireland is maybe the conversation I was most invested in of all the ones in the film. And that’s only because it felt very authentic, and Ryan’s Irish character doesn’t feel like she jumped out of the pages of a coloring book about the magic of Ireland. The extended conversation works because Shanley is a gifted writer, and even his subpar stories seem to have a certain something that pulls us in, makes us laugh, and demands that we care about these people, even when they’re being ridiculous, selfish or even (unintentionally) borderline cruel. Wild Mountain Thyme is sweet in all the right places, has a great deal of heart, and a certain affection toward those who don’t fit into the mainstream. And while I wouldn’t say it celebrates such people, it does afford them a certain dignity.
The film will be available Friday in theaters that are open and via VOD.
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