Emily Blunt, Jamie Dornan are bogged down in director John Patrick Shanley’s misbegotten Irish romance
Dir/scr: John Patrick Shanley. Ireland/UK. 2020. 102 mins
More than three decades have passed since John Patrick Shanley won the Oscar for his screenplay of bewitching love story Moonstruck. Lightning doesn’t strike twice with Wild Mountain Thyme, an unabashed tearjerker adapted from Shanley’s 2014 Broadway play ’Outside Mullingar’. Incurable romantics will have to overlook toe-curling moments and errant Irish accents if they are to embrace the cosy, comfort blanket cockle-warming on offer here. The star names should ensure home viewing traction in the wake of a US theatrical release on December 11.
The much derided accents are the least of the issues with Wild Mountain Thyme
The much-derided accents are the least of the issues with Wild Mountain Thyme as whimsy and cliche overwhelm the more intriguing melancholy elements. Filmed in County Mayo, it is set in a soggy rural Ireland of superstition and solitude. A remote farming community congregates around the church, a cemetery and a pub where you almost expect The Quiet Man’s Victor McLaglen to be ordering a pint. There may be references to The Lion King here but it feels strangely out of time.
Christopher Walken’s late Tony Reilly narrates the story of the long, troubled relationship between his bashful son Anthony (Jamie Dornan) and their neighbour Rosemary Muldoon (Emily Blunt), a flame-haired lass who has waited a lifetime for the slightest sign of encouragement from the man she has adored since the age of ten.
Anthony is considered emotionally repressed and socially inept as we are constantly reminded by those around him. “Look at you,” his father chides. “ You can’t even love a dog.” Dornan makes a credible fist of depicting a cripplingly shy, tongue-tongued introvert but seems less comfortable with the broader comic demands of pratfalls and a practise session declaring his feelings to a donkey.
Emily Blunt’s unwavering professionalism also lends conviction to the pipe-smoking, bloody-minded Rosemary. Dressed in bright reds and autumn shades, she is such a striking presence that you question why she has wasted her life waiting on Anthony.
Things take a turn for the decisive when Tony announces that he does not intend to bequeath his farm to Anthony. Cue the arrival of American cousin and perfunctory love rival Adam (Jon Hamm), a smooth, jet-set sophisticate whose hire car in Ireland is a Rolls Royce.
It is possible to swallow all this malarkey but there are hints of a deeper, more appealing film addressing the loneliness of rural life and the ache of those who feel that love may have passed them by. There are some warm, touching scenes in a father/son bedside conversation when Tony falls ill and in some of the quieter, more thoughtful exchanges between Anthony and Rosemary. Mostly, Shanley favours brittle comic banter, singalong renditions of the title folk song and some lazy plotting leading up to a storm-tossed finale. Amelia Warner’s score feels equally predictable as it deploys fiddle music that ranges from toe-tapping jauntiness to maudlin sentimentality.
In the end, Wild Mountain Thyme fails to make the most of its cast or fairytale story and feels slightly misbegotten.
Production companies: Mar-Key Pictures, A Likely Story, Port Pictures
International sales: Hanway Films firstname.lastname@example.org
Producers: Leslie Urdang, Anthony Bregman, Alex Witchell, Martina Niland, Michael A Helfant, Bradley Gallo
Editing: Ian Blume
Cinematography: Stephen Goldblatt
Prod des: Anna Rackard
Music: Amelia Warner
Main cast: Emily Blunt, Jamie Dornan, Jon Hamm, Christopher Walken