According to critics, I really shouldn’t like this movie. They make some pretty valid arguments, yet I’m going to stray from the path and mow one of my own, over the green, green hills of Ireland, which provide such lusty landscape porn over the opening credits alone that I need very little further convincing.
Neighbouring farms belonging to the Muldoons and the Reillys have supplied friction as well as friendship over the years, and if this was anywhere else this might have made them enemies, but these two generational farming families are wise enough to know not to completely estrange the very people who will be counted upon in a pinch should the need arise, and the need is always arising. Rosemary Muldoon (Emily Blunt) and Anthony Reilly (Jamie Dornan) have known each other their entire lives, and since there’s not exactly an excess of options, it’s been assumed by locals that they would someday marry. Now their elderly parents are dying off, but the relationship hasn’t deepened much beyond “Good morning to ya'” because Anthony is terminally awkward and believes too strongly in a family curse. And he’s always at odds with his father (Christopher Walken), who decides to pass over bachelor Anthony in favour of keeping the family name and the farm’s inheritance alive and well. Enter Anthony’s American cousin Adam (Jon Hamm), a Yank in every sense of the word. Arrogant, showy, with no real concept of farming, Adam’s worst crime is of course this his eye is immediately caught by the girl next door, Rosemary, who is understandably growing antsy waiting for “shy,” “slow” Anthony to come around.
Writer-director John Patrick Shanley adapts his own play for the screen and gives us a unique love story specific to a corner of Ireland just outside Mullingar. Rosemary and Anthony remain separated by a gate and a silly family feud, but they’re emotionally separated as well, never really able to connect. Since we spend privileged time with both, we’re privy to them each burning up from wanting the other, which makes their failure to connect all the more frustrating.
You’ll need three things to even have a hope of enjoying Wild Mountain Thyme: 1. patience; she’s a slow burn, folks 2. a willingness to overlook some pretty dodgy accents, and 3. a willingness to let go of convention and embrace its offbeat charm. Wild Mountain Thyme isn’t just set in Ireland, but set in its own time and place, a place that looks Irish and a time that seems like the 21st century, and yet is so rural and insular not only have modern conveniences barely touched them, our grown-ass protagonists also seem almost child-like in their (lack of) lived experience. They’re naïve. The film has its own rules and internal logic but doesn’t feel compelled to share them with us, things just are how they are and you can either love it or leave it, and honestly I won’t blame you either way. Like all truly quirky movies, this one is not meant for everyone. For those of us whose souls thirst for the truly eccentric, it is a puzzle not to be solved but to be admired for its opacity. When things come out of left field, we should merely note what a lovely field it is, and remember to admire the right one as well, while we’re at it. I know first hand what it is to spend a movie yelling “WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING” at the screen and checking wild-eyed with our co-watchers to see if they, too, are experiencing the brain melt. But this one simmered just above that level for me, an enjoyable stew of lyricism, unconventionality, and idiosyncratic story-telling that exists well outside the normal realm of romance I couldn’t help but admire its bold posture.
The last time John Patrick Shanley adapted his own work for us, we got Doubt, a small film with big impact. This is not Doubt. It is very much its own thing, without comparison or peers. Emily Blunt, of course, could make me watch almost anything; every performance seems to find some new undiscovered corner of her essence as she stretches to reach corners of the human spirit she hasn’t shown us before. She’s the best thing in this, and reason to watch all on her own, as long as you’re up for some uncommon trappings.
Wild Mountain Thyme is in select theatres now, and will be available on digital and on-demand Dec 22.