‘Wild Mountain Thyme’: Irish Humor Outdoes the Romance

Wild Mountain Thyme” is an Irish romantic comedy much more obsessed with being Irish than romantic, or that funny. It’s packed galore with old timers telling stories passed down the generations, cable-knits and shawls. The vistas are gorgeous wide shots of green country and overcast skies reflected off clear rivers. This is most certainly the ideal setting for lovelorn movie mishaps. Director John Patrick Shanley is not without experience, having written many notable movies and directed some hits. Yet here he’s a cook slacking off while adapting his own play, which onstage is reportedly a delightful experience. A strong cast is repeating clichés, enjoying their time together more than the material itself.

Somewhere in rural Ireland, life revolves around farming and family legacies. Anthony Reilly (Jamie Dornan) lives with his father, Tony (Christopher Walken). Anthony believes he is cursed, especially after never winning the love of his young life, Fiona. Tony seems to agree since he is refusing to leave Anthony the family farm, instead considering bequeathing it to his nephew, a vain banker in America named Adam (Jon Hamm). Further down the road lives hard-headed Rosemary Muldoon (Emily Blunt), also single and living with her recently-widowed mother, Aoife (Dearbhla Molloy). Rosemary has harbored a passionate love for Anthony since they were 6 and he pushed her down a road, causing friction between the families to the point of gating a specific plot of land. When Tony announces he will not leave his son the farm, Rosemary resists by refusing to sell back the plot, even if Anthony seems aloof to her attraction. Actually, Anthony does feel he and Rosemary would go well together, but he keeps resisting his inner feelings because of his insecurities. When Adam arrives to check out the land he also takes a liking to Rosemary.

When the trailer for “Wild Mountain Thyme” dropped a while ago the immediate reaction was derision at its Irish stereotypes and terrible accents. True, Christopher Walken wins the award for worst fake accent of 2020. He doesn’t sound Irish or as anything else you could pinpoint. Dornan and Blunt are of Irish and English stock, so they do better. Hamm doesn’t even have to try since he’s the American relative. With that out of the way, the rest of the film is fine as a wink at cultural flavor. The real weaknesses in the execution wouldn’t work if it was set in the U.S. or Turkey for that matter. As a wordsmith Shanley is best known to romance movie buffs for 1987’s “Moonstruck,” with its famous performance by Cher and characters very similar to the ones in this movie. It’s that same concept of people convinced they’ve been afflicted by some invisible curse, destined to pine for unreachable love. It can be a deliriously fun and endearing angle, but in “Wild Mountain Thyme” it gets lost in an odd lack of energy and focus. 

There needs to be a certain tension to a story about one person loving someone refusing to budge. In Shanley’s original play, Anthony and Rosemary are pushing 50, so their predicament is based on a longer life of experienced disappointments. Dornan and Blunt come across as two weirdos who are still too young to feel like it’s all absolutely lost. They are also conveniently very attractive (and in Rosemary’s case blessed with lots of land), so we feel little pity for their stubbornness. We enjoy seeing them together on screen because they still appear to be having fun with the jokes and pitiful nature of the characters. However the movie feels awkward because its sense of time and place seems off. Opening scenes seem to suggest we’re walking around Ireland 50 years ago if not more, but once Adam arrives in his Rolls Royce, iPad in hand, he makes it quite clear it’s the present. Apparently Irish farmers have no internet, televisions or iPhones, or any other way of accessing U2 music videos. Even isolated tribes in the Amazon run websites. One can guess it is Shanley’s way of evoking the enclosed world of Anthony and Rosemary, yet it’s a bit hard to believe. 

Yet even if this story were set in 1960, as cinema there is little motivation behind anything. Rosemary likes Anthony and he’s eternally absent-minded. Once Adam arrives he is instantly smitten with Rosemary for no other reason than he has fantasies of owning a farm in an Irish valley, with a proper small town wife. He invites her to New York and she admits she’s never been to the ballet. Rosemary is obviously not impressed by Adam’s money or pretensions, but one day, for no reason, on the fly she decides to fly to NYC to make him take her to the ballet. How this plays out turns out to be a completely needless and meaningless detour in the plot. The movie is full of many of these distractions that go nowhere, sometimes providing unnecessary exposition, like Adam boasting that he’s a practical guy who doesn’t believe in fairy tale love. Alright, but Rosemary obviously does and is obsessed with Anthony. So why is she here in New York? Why would she even contemplate flying all the way over there for one night? Surely there is ballet in the Republic of Ireland, or across the border in the United Kingdom.

“Wild Mountain Thyme” might have worked better as a collection of vignettes. Some individual jokes and moments play better as stand-alone mini-stories, like a farmer spreading a rumor that Anthony has fallen in love with a donkey, or a rather powerful scene where Tony opens up to Anthony and says “I love you” with the endearing tone of a tough dad showing his softer side. These scenes no doubt work better onstage (and with a different cast). As a romantic comedy “Wild Mountain Thyme” just feels aimless. There’s no reason for anyone to either be apart or get together in this yarn. The lovers in “La La Land” had more serious issues to grapple with like rent and career ambitions. What you will get out of this one are some brief moments of feisty Irish humor and very enjoyable landscapes. The rest is more forgettable than even some bad dates.

Wild Mountain Thyme” releases Dec. 11 on VOD and in select cities.