Lovers of British whimsy likely will embrace this leisurely romantic comedy — available via video-on-demand — which takes an Irish approach to the conventional formula.
|Rosemary (Emily Blunt) has loved Anthony (Jamie Dornan) ever since they were 10 years
old. Now in their mid-30s, with so much time already behind them, she wonders if he’ll
ever be brave enough to ask her hand in marriage.
Given the Irish setting and poetic spirit, writer/director John Patrick Shanley’s gentle little fable — which he adapted from his 2014 Broadway play, Outside Mullingar — naturally involves an element of loss, and is fueled by the beloved, melancholy Celtic folk song that gives his film its title.
The mood is established immediately by off-camera narrator Tony Reilly (Christopher Walken), who explains — as cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt’s camera swoops above the wild, amazingly green, stunningly gorgeous Irish countryside — “They say, if an Irishman dies while he’s telling a story, you can rest assured, he’ll be back.”
Seriously, how can you resist an opening like that?
Anthony Reilly (Jamie Dornan) and Rosemary Muldoon (Emily Blunt) have lived on neighboring farms their entire lives, and she has loved him unreservedly since they were 10 years old. Everybody in their closely knit farming community knows they’re meant for each other … except Anthony.
He’s an eccentric, tongue-tied introvert who — fearing that he’s “tetched” — believes himself unlovable. He steadfastly works the family farm, having taken over all chores and responsibilities from his aging father Tony, who nonetheless irascibly grumbles that his son “doesn’t have what it takes.”
To a significant degree, Tony is nettled by Anthony’s unwillingness to get on with it, and marry Rosemary, fercryinoutloud. She, in turn — her feisty, independent nature notwithstanding — patiently waits for Anthony to come to his senses. (“Romeo’s not able to climb the balcony,” Shanley muses, in the press notes, “and Juliet won’t come down.”)
Tony also grouses about the fact that their farm is blocked by two gates that enclose a little strip of road owned by the Muldoons: which is to say, it’s necessary to open and close those gates every time one enters or leaves the Reilly farm.
The death of Rosemary’s father Chris — who spent his entire life “at war with the crows” — proves a catalyst of sorts. Rosemary’s mother Aoife (Dearbhla Molloy) is bereft, and Tony senses that his own time on Earth is drawing to a close. Something needs to be done, and so he makes a decision that dismays everybody: He announces his intention to sell the family farm to his American nephew, Adam (Jon Hamm).
Adam — every inch the archetype of an aggressive, patronizing American — descends upon this little town, and improbably announces his intention to become a farmer. And (naturally) immediately makes a play for Rosemary.
Matters … progress from there.
Rest assured, the outcome of this quirky little fable never is in doubt; as often is the case with such films, the journey is far more endearing than the destination.
Blunt and Dornan are terrific together; the sexual tension between Rosemary and Anthony positively crackles, even if the latter hasn’t the faintest idea how to respond to it. She’s flirty, occasionally teasing, and clearly amused by his shyness and indecision; at the same time, her eyes often reveal a passionate hunger that tradition won’t allow her to voice aloud.
Much of their banter takes place in the rain, whether gentle showers or drenching downpours; this augments the delectably erotic undercurrent. (Blunt and Dornan certainly deserved hazard pay, having spent much of the shoot soaking wet.)
Walken is appropriately cantankerous and somewhat slovenly: an aging gentleman neither concerned about his own appearance, nor willing to gladly suffer his fool of a son. And yet Tony’s gentler side surfaces when in Aoife’s company; one sense that, way back in the day, he may have been chagrined when she chose Chris over him.
Molloy, reprising her role from the Broadway production of Outside Mullingar, is this story’s wisely pragmatic character: sharply observant, and with the proper response to any situation. She also sees right through Tony, much to his embarrassed discomfort.
Hamm, finally, remains just the right side of credible, as the American interloper who assumes he can get whatever he wants. Adam’s smile couldn’t be less sincere.
These mildly contrived events become even more swooningly romantic against the lush Irish countryside, with a massive lone mountain overlooking the farms and village, like a dormant volcano. Although the setting is contemporary, Shanley nonetheless evokes the Eire of yore; the result feels oddly timeless, like a period film taking place in the present day.
This ambiguity is enhanced by a musical palette that features traditional Irish folk music, a town band — with accordion, clarinets, folk fiddle and bass — and Amelia Warner’s lyrical underscore.
Shanley is well-versed in quirky romantic comedy, having snagged a well-deserved Oscar for writing 1987’s Moonstruck. This new film reflects his own Irish heritage, and an uncle whose farm was, yes, blocked from the road by two gates (the reason for which, never was clarified).
All this said, Wild Mountain Thyme definitely won’t appeal to everybody; some will find the romantic angst too contrived, and the pacing just this side of comatose. (Perhaps predictably, Irish critics have complained about Blunt’s accent, and the story’s “uncontrolled blarney.”)
Even so, given patience, it’s easy to fall under Shanley’s spell.