John Patrick Shanley's adaptation of his own play introduces too many paper-thin obstacles to keep apart lovers we know will end up together.
- 🌿 Shanley introduces a lot of compelling ideas about family, legacy and love.
- 🌿 A gorgeous locale provides a beautiful backdrop for this story of love that desperately needs its name spoken.
- 🌿 A protracted third act seems to fight against a resolution that's almost been prescribed for the two main characters.
Underneath the surface, Wild Mountain Thyme is about a lot of things, but to paraphrase Roger Ebert, I’m not confident about the way that it’s about them. John Patrick Shanley’s adaptation of his own Tony-nominated play explores unfulfilled dreams, inherited legacies, oppressive obligations, and just on its face, romances yet to be consummated. But even if these elements simmer in anticipation of the workout that Shanley’s gifted cast tries to give them, none are brought to the kind of boil that connects with an audience — particularly an American one not versed in the particular brand of Irish repression upon which this film builds its cultural and conceptual foundations. Despite earnest performances from Emily Blunt and Jamie Dornan as would-be lovers whose emotional divide is further than the distance of their families’ neighboring farms, Wild Mountain Thyme doesn’t quite overcome the challenge of making us understand why their inevitable romance seems so besieged by problems.
Blunt (Mary Poppins Returns) plays Rosemary Muldoon, the headstrong but devoted daughter of Aoife (Dearbhla Molloy), and Dornan (50 Shades Freed) plays Anthony Reilly, son of Tony (Christopher Walken). After the death of Aoife’s husband and Rosemary’s doting father, both parents begin to contemplate their legacies, and more specifically, their land; Aoife gives hers to Rosemary, but Tony thinks Anthony isn’t suited to a farmer’s life, and proposes to turn it over to his American nephew Adam (Jon Hamm), a businessman and inveterate pragmatist. When Adam learns that Rosemary owns a narrow strip that leads between the two farms, he offers to buy it from her, working his clear-eyed charm while reluctantly succumbing to hers. But after privately acknowledging her feelings for Anthony, she becomes torn by the arrival of a suitor after decades of tunnel vision for this neighbor and friend from childhood who seems to live entirely inside his own head.
As their parents advance into their final days, both Rosemary and Anthony face some big choices whether to carry on their families’ rural legacies or move to the city — or even to America — and pursue their own unrealized dreams. But with Adam’s offer looming over Anthony’s farm, and Rosemary’s heart, the two ae forced to confront the feelings that they are so reluctant to speak, and see if their union is the balm that reconciles their individual restlessness and repairs the losses of their beloved parents.
Moreso than its pedigree as the latest film by the Oscar-winning writer of Moonstruck, Wild Mountain Thyme follows in the estimable tradition of quaint UK imports that tag into universal laughs or tug enough at the heartstrings to earn a worldwide audience, like Waking Ned Devine, The Full Monty, Circle of Friends, and The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain. That gives it an automatic cache of precociousness, but after Richard Curtis blew up this cottage industry with increasingly ambitious projects like Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and About Time, there’s less value in exploring the idiosyncrasies of accented lovers in contemporary pastoral settings like the Irish countryside in which this film takes place if they’re not melded with some detailed and meaningful character study. Unfortunately, Shanley commits to the set-up more than he does his two lovers, who hurtle toward their pre-scripted fates almost in search of reasons not to get there — much to the increasing frustration of the audience.
The building blocks are there; outside of her lifelong girlish infatuation with the poetic soul that Anthony exposes only sparingly, Rosemary is sketched in more thinly than her counterpart, but externally his wrestling match between the farm he’s poised to inherit and a wandering spirit he’s desperate to follow feels palpable, and no more vividly when it risks being given away to someone else. There’s something genuinely powerful about not quite knowing what you’re meant to do while being burdened with an inescapable sense of obligation, and Dornan brings that indecision vividly to life. But these are supposed to be not only two romantics, and two dreamers, but full-on oddballs that the outside world is permanently confounded by; and neither the irrefutably comely looks of Blunt and Dornan support that, nor do the secret, improbably weird ideas they harbor about themselves that keep them tied up in internal debate.
But even if you could buy their mutually quirky self-images, Shanley indulges them for way too long as obstacles to ending up together. Even if the Irish disposition actually prescribes that a majority of every conversation involves the amount of bickering that these characters instigate, Anthony and Rosemary are obstinately — unbelievably — unwilling to express their feelings, or admit to them, even when confronted point blank.
The third act of the film takes place between Rosemary and Anthony in her family home while Adam flies across the Atlantic to propose to her, presumably because she looks like Emily Blunt and he’s read a script that demands he play the role of “Competitor For Her Affections.” The vast majority of this protracted sequence involves Rosemary trying to convince Anthony that he has feelings for her, while refusing to admit she shares them in return, as they squabble and share beer and wring out after a torrential downpour that under ordinary circumstances, even ordinary dramatic circumstances, would be idyllic for a fateful reveal or two. But instead, Shanley lets them continue sniping and standing and sitting (and sitting and standing) until as a view you’re ready to storm out.
That the inevitable resolution of this romantic tension turns around their temperaments so quickly makes it doubly disappointing, because by then you want them giving into their urges to suffuse the viewing experience with the same exhilarating sense of romantic fulfillment that they must be experiencing. But as a romantic fable, a meditation on the choice between personal passion and familial responsibility, or even a psychological profile of two people too consumed by what’s in their heads to engage with the world around them, Shanley’s film never comes together in the way that it should. Ultimately, Wild Mountain Thyme is precious and indulgent in the way that not only a love story shouldn’t be, but real love can’t be in order to find its perfect partner. Because that’s really what these two characters are, perfect for each other, and there is something beautiful about that; but Shanley spends so much time keeping them from realizing that powerful truth, against all plot complications, reason and basic believability, that when they do, we no longer care.
Wild Mountain Thyme is available on VOD now.
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