John Patrick Shanley returns with a miscast, disingenuous tale of Irish star-crossed lovers.
An adaptation of his play Outside Mullingar, which was panned by Irish critics, John Patrick Shanley’s Wild Mountain Thyme follows a pair of neighboring farmers as they try to find love despite an ongoing land dispute they get caught up in. When the trailer to this film came out, it was immediately mocked for awful accents and a questionable depiction of Ireland. From watching, it turns out those criticisms were correct. This is a soulless film that does little more than create some pretty shots for the Irish tourist board.
Our two romantic leads are Anthony (Jamie Dornan) and Rosemary (Emily Blunt), childhood sweethearts who never quite managed to hit it off. Anthony is a klutzy oddball whose father won’t give him the farm he’s worked and lived on his entire life if he doesn’t marry soon. Instead, his father, Tony (Christopher Walken), is planning to sell it to his cousin Adam (Jon Hamm). In the film, we follow the couple as Anthony tries to get the land he’s owed and Rosemary tries to get Anthony to finally see her love for him.
There are also some real structural issues with the film. Sometimes things are thrown at you far too quickly, other times we’re focusing on things that feel meaningless. A lot of the plotting seems incredibly contrived to get us to particular big moments, but those moments don’t even land. All of this makes the pacing uneven and makes the seams of Shanley’s adaptation process abundantly clear.
Dornan’s performance is mostly pretty okay; he goes through the pratfalls the plot requires of him and gives enough emotion when Shanley’s script tries to wrench out sentimentality. In spite of his best efforts, he’s severely miscast. It’s hard to buy Dornan, a man renowned for his very specific kind of handsomeness, as a dorky hands-on farmer in rural Ireland. It might be possible to overlook if the fantasy here were more convincing, but in a film this tonally disjointed, bad casting becomes pretty glaring.
On the other hand, Rosemary is an independent firebrand who’s always followed her own path. However, still holds a place in her heart for Anthony. Blunt plays the role decently well, giving us some passion and wit, stealing most of the scenes she’s in with her sheer audacity. However, Rosemary’s characterization is frustratingly shallow. She doesn’t have any sense of personhood outside a vague desire for freedom and an unfaltering love for Anthony. Any problem she has is as a direct result of not being able to marry Anthony, which robs her of any complex internal life.
These character flaws could be forgivable if there was real chemistry between Blunt and Dornan, but there just isn’t. You’re meant to believe they’re desperately in love with each other in a way that’s self-evident to everyone except Anthony, but neither the script nor the performances demonstrate why. (Rosemary says to herself, “I know I must have him,” after he gives a dull and vaguely poetic monologue about his ties to the land, and it’s more baffling than striking.) Their confessions of love come off as strained and their one good scene together is actually more about high-octane absurd comedy than any sort of romance.
Beyond our leading duo is Walken as Tony, Anthony’s father. From the jump Tony feels excessively cruel and arbitrary, telling Tony, “Look at you, you can’t even love a dog,” in the first 10 minutes. It feels as if he’s meant to be grumpy, but Walken, with his abominable attempt at an Irish accent, plays the character with so much bile that his behavior plays as emotionally abusive. When we later get some moments to try and make him a more sympathetic character, they do very little to make him likable, and Walken’s performance is far too weak to elevate the character.
Elsewhere is Hamm as Adam, Anthony’s American cousin and the villain who threatens to break up the relationship by buying the farm from Tony. It’s nothing out of the ordinary for the actor and he plays it exactly how you’d expect him to, keeping his signature charm throughout. Even with that, the script frames him as a hollow caricature of Americans, obsessed with money and attention rather than caring about the land or rustic life.
It might be possible to overlook [Dornan’s performance] if the fantasy here were more convincing, but in a film this tonally disjointed, bad casting becomes pretty glaring.
But the core issue with this film is its presentation of Ireland. As many people pointed out when the trailer came out, it’s bizarre that the leading cast of this film is mostly Americans, their Irish accents awful. Even Dornan, who was born in Northern Ireland, manages to sound completely unnatural with the accent he puts on. This lack of care extends to the rest of the film, which portrays Ireland as being entirely composed of rolling hills and farms, refusing to even say where in Ireland these events are happening.
Anthony, on the other hand, frames his future choices as selling the farm and leaving Ireland or staying with farmer life despite there clearly being multiple flourishing cities in Ireland. Rosemary has to go to New York to see Swan Lake, despite there being active ballet in Ireland. Shanley’s bizarre fetishistic lens on Ireland makes Wild Mountain Thyme’s narrative about culture clashes feel deeply disingenuous, while also contributing to the weightlessness of their characterizations.
On a technical level, this film is pretty, but it’s hard for cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt to go wrong when the luscious green of rural Ireland is so stunning. He also manages to make a lot of these interiors feel cozy, which is great but not exactly a standout. There’s nothing genuine about Wild Mountain Thyme, whether it’s the accents, the romance, or the attempts at twee humor. Everything feels like surface level and nothing in this film has enough charm to make Shanley’s fantasy version of Ireland work, resulting in a lukewarm, gelatinous mess of wasted talent.
Wild Mountain Thyme opens in select theaters and on VOD this Friday, December 11.