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John Patrick Shanley’s dramedy Wild Mountain Thyme, the screen adaptation of his own 2014 Broadway play Outside Mullinger, matches the name of a well-worn poetic Scottish/Irish ballad. Speaking longingly of companionship amid the natural beauty of the Gaelic countryside, the wellspring of stirring imagery coming from its lyrics could inspire potential romance out of damn near any writer or playwright worth their salt. And then, to hear it sung! Whether you take it in with a traditional arrangement, a more contemporary spin, or something in between, the song pulls thematic heartstrings with ease.
When “Wild Mountain Thyme” is crooned in this film at about the halfway point, by the alluring pipes of Emily Blunt, no less, the enchantment radiates. Standing at her microphone alone and singing in tribute to her late mother and her own internal longing, it is the precise moment when her uncustomary character unfurls into someone grander than her brusque exterior. Her watching family and friends see it. We see it too. With regrets, the man of her dreams, played by Jamie Dornan of the Fifty Shades series, isn’t there to see it and notice.
Unfortunately, this moment of the borrowed title song getting its proper spotlight is the rustic crest of this movie. Wild Mountain Thyme tries so hard to climb higher. Its romance is constantly saddled with blindness that misses the point of the lyrics. It’s as if the refrain of “will ye go” in the song is stuck by the living embodiment of “s–t or get off the pot” instead. There’s real beauty there, it’s a shame the movie didn’t have it other than the scenery.
In the words of one of Ireland’s ancient language, dia ár sábháil! There’s a line that says “the kinds of dreams kids have make adults miserable.” Sigh. That is the collective belief hanging like fog in Wild Mountain Thyme.
Blunt is Rosemary Muldoon, a feisty equestrian free spirit who has been in love with her neighbor Anthony Reilly (Dornan) all her life. Dreaming of Swan Lake and carrying on with hope, Rosemary pines to someone oblivious who says he won’t ever marry. Worse, their humble mutual farming families in the Crossmolina area of County Mayo have long endured a love-hate strife over crossover land squabbles that have now spanned generations. This is continued presently by Rosemary’s mother Aoife, played by Irish stage actress Dearbhia Molloy, and Anthony’s father Tony, the out-of-place Oscar winner Chrisopher Walken, who unfortunately narrates this story from beyond the grave.
Things become upended when the senior Tony, thinking of his impending death, decides to pass over his son and bequeath the family farm to his American nephew Adam Reilly (Jon Hamm). The slick New Yorker has little initiative to maintain it, other than maybe pursue Rosemary himself, with any devotion equal to the true son. If Anthony would marry and take a wife, he would be seen as more suitable and ready. For a guy that claims to hear voices, Anthony sure doesn’t listen.
When you hear his two hangups, one involving a silly, ever-present metal detector and another with how his land-bound heart feels in self-identity, the groans possible could sink the whole island into the Atlantic. The dunderheaded man has it so easy. You have every sign, solid family advice, been given every necessary approval, and have all of Emily Blunt’s devotion before and those are your apprehensions? Somebody call Conor MacGregor to knock some sense into this guy and tell him where he can go.
Watching the opening flashbacks of generational Reilly and Muldoon history and the captivating outdoor cinematography of Stephen Goldblatt (The Help) throughout Wild Mountain Thyme, you would figure this movie takes place 50-100 years ago. Nope, it’s the modern day and John Patrick Shanley is here levying one antiquated and contrived Irish, rural, and romantic cliche after another. Forcing all of that is extremely unnecessary. Between the mismatched casting, contrived relationship hurdles, and some of the worst attempts at accents ever put on screen, this film is borderline insulting to modern intelligence. Don’t believe me? Let an authentic Irish actor tell you just from the trailer.
Shanley, a celebrated creator with an Oscar, a Tony, and a Pulitzer Prize on his New York City mantle, might as well be a sculpture of the aforementioned salt. Between his high watermarks of Moonstruck and Doubt from stage and screen, he is a proven storyteller of rich conflict and compelling characters. So little of those anchors are present in Wild Mountain Thyme when such salt was needed. To see him come back over to film 12 years after the scintillating Doubt to this is downright embarrassing. He, the talent involved, and the host nation itself are all better than this near drivel.