You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more enjoyable actress than Emily Blunt (Don’t believe me? Just watch some of her interviews). She instantly brings a certain smile-inducing energy to “Wild Mountain Thyme”, the new not-so-romantic dramedy from writer and director John Patrick Shanley. The film is based on Shanley’s Broadway play “Outside Mullingar” and it packs a handsome cast. But it digs itself into a hole so deep that neither the gorgeous Irish landscapes or Mrs. Blunt herself can dig it out.
For generations the Reillys and the Muldoons have lived side-by-side, their sprawling farms separated by stone fences, a few tree lines, and two very annoying gates. Through the years the old neighbors have had their share of spats. But these days it’s mostly playful jousting between the two widowed family heads, Tony Reilly (Christopher Walken) and Aoife Muldoon (Dearbhla Molloy). Both are in their 70s and both are aware that they’ll soon be the ones handing down their family’s properties.
For Aoife it’s pretty cut-and-dried. Her more-than-capable daughter Rosemary (Blunt) will inherit and run their farm. On the Reilly side it’s a little more complicated. Tony has kept his son Anthony (Jamie Dornan) in Ireland with the promise that he’ll one day inherit their family’s land. But now the patriarch’s not so sure his shy and slightly oafish son is cut out to carry the Reilly family mantle. In addition to being a tad dense, Anthony has this unusual inability to let himself love and a general fear of happiness. It’s a quirk with Dornan’s character that grows more irritating over time.
The first half of the film plays around with the question of whether or not Anthony will get the farm. The second half is all about his incomprehensible relationship with Rosemary. Since they were children growing up on neighboring properties Rosemary has loved Anthony. And for some inexplicable reason she’s still waiting for the oblivious lunkhead to finally love her back. It puts Blunt in a tough spot. She’s shackled to a character who simply can’t move forward because her entire story arc hinges on Anthony snapping out of his fog.
Things shake up a little when Anthony’s pampered American cousin Adam (John Hamm) shows up. He’s a New York money manager who doesn’t quite understand the Irish’s ways (not that the movie represents them well) but he does set his eye on Rosemary. In reality he’s a flimsy and shallow character who’s only there to move the story to its inevitable finish. And in a weird way you may find yourself rooting for Adam. At least he gives Rosemary something to do other than miserably fawn over Anthony. Meanwhile Anthony mostly mopes around the farm and Dornan’s dry, sterile performance doesn’t do the character any favors.
Yes the film eventually tries to explain Anthony’s built-in apprehension, but it culminates in a seemingly endless final 15 minutes which is funny considering how the rest of the movie races from point to point skimming over huge chunks of story. As for the much talked about Irish accents, this south Arkansas native is no expert, but some of them do seem….off. I mean I love Christopher Walken, but his shaky come-and-go Irish-ish accent is pretty entertaining (in the unintentionally funny sense).
The real shame of it is “Wild Mountain Thyme” has moments of real heart and humor. The sweeping Golden era score and the lush rolling scenery makes for a near magical setting. It ends up being a movie you want to root for. But it speeds through so much of the story, shortchanges so many characters, and relies so heavily on a truly annoying lead (sorry Mr. Dornan). It may pass for lightweight escapism for some, but I never could shake the feeling of disappointment. “Wild Mountain Thyme” releases December 11th in theaters and on VOD.
VERDICT – 2 STARS