John Patrick Shanley won an Academy Award for his Moonstruck screenplay and was nominated for Doubt. Just as importantly, he wrote and directed Joe vs. the Volcano, the 1990 Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan fantasy-romance that has a legion of passionate fans, myself included. Viewers looking for any of the various types of magic found in those three films will likely come away disappointed by Shanley's latest, Wild Mountain Thyme, based on his play Outside Mullingar.
The story is set in a small Irish village. Anthony (Jamie Dornan) is a shy man approaching forty. He's also somewhat certain that his life has been cursed. His father Tony (Christopher Walken, who should never be asked to do an Irish accent) is ready to let go of the family farm, but doesn't think his son is a natural farmer. Instead, he wants to give the land to Adam (Jon Hamm), his American nephew. Of course, Adam's no farmer, either – a fact that leads to hurt feelings.
As is required of all movies set in Ireland, there are romantic complications. Rosemary (Emily Blunt) has been madly in love with Anthony since they were children. He knows this, yet has never acted upon it. When Adam comes to see the land he hopes to take control of, he meets Rosemary and is instantly smitten with her. The question becomes whether Anthony will come to his senses once there's competition for her affections.
All of that sounds sweet and charming. Wild Mountain Thyme plays differently, though. Shanley puts a weird dark streak down the middle with symbolic thunderstorms and plenty of conflict between the characters. Rosemary, in particular, is rightfully angry that the man she loves continually blows her off. Tony, meanwhile, holds an unexplained hostility toward his son, and Anthony just generally seems to dislike himself.
At the same time, the filmmaker includes a lot of the requisite Irish quirkiness we've seen again and again onscreen. His approach is to make it off-puttingly weird. Toward the end, for example, Anthony reveals a strange belief about himself that in no way feels like something a normal human being would ever think. I won't blow it, but imagine if I told you that this isn't a movie review, it's a sheep. That's how preposterous his admission is.
The bottom line is that it's kind of hard to feel much empathy for these characters. You've got a guy who refuses to accept the love of a good woman, a woman who refuses to accept that her feelings aren't returned, a father who rejects his son, and a man who wants the farm (and the woman) simply because he feels having them would make him seem worldly. We like these people only to the degree that they are portrayed by likeable stars. That said, they're frustratingly clueless.
Of course, with a talent of Shanley's caliber and the equal talents of his cast, Wild Mountain Thyme does hold together somewhat. Blunt is charming as ever, albeit in an edgier manner than we're used to. Dornan shows a surprising flair for playing comedic exasperation, and Hamm is really good as the “ugly American” thinking he can swoop in and endear himself to the locals. The script has a few funny or poignant lines scattered throughout, as well.
Those elements, combined with beautiful cinematography, give Wild Mountain Thyme some appeal. It's just not enough to match the sheer romanticism of Moonstruck, the tension of Doubt, or the irresistible off-the-wall quality of Joe vs. the Volcano.
out of four
Wild Mountain Thyme is rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and suggestive comments. The running time is 1 hour and 42 minutes.