John Patrick Shanley’s WILD MOUNTAIN THYME, based on his play Outside Mulligan, is a charmer of an Irish muddle. Committed in its gentle eccentricity, it essays to find the mythic in the quotidien and darn near pulls it off. At least sly humor abounds as the determined Rosemary (Emily Blunt) pines for Anthony (Jamie Dornan) the shy boy on the farm next to hers about whom rumors of gentle madness are a way for the townsfolk to pass the time.
Set firmly in the folkloric Irish countryside, Shanley creates a sense of timelessness, even as characters prove all too mortal. The effect is that of a continuum of community that Anthony’s reluctance to marry anyone offends, almost as much as it offends his father, Tony (Christopher Walken), who decides to address the situation by selling his farm to his American nephew, Adam (John Hamm). When Tony tries to buy the odd strip of land owned by Rosemary that crosses his own, and necessitates two sets of gates, in order to cinch the deal, he discovers the depth of Rosemary’s feelings for Anthony, and just how skilled she is in telling off the older man for disrupting the neighborhood.
As is wont in romantic comedies, there are missteps and miscue and signs that turn out to be portents of an entirely different nature. Blunt is endearing in her pure anti-romanticism. The primal urges sprung from hormones and the pull of being part of the tapestry of local life are compelling, making Anthony’s equivocation palpably frustrating to the point of madness. There is something in the clear-eyed way she takes Anthony’s measure that combines longing and frustration that is a marvel of complexity and emotional immediacy. The arrival of Adam in a flashy car becomes an opportunity for Shanley to wax grandiloquent on the differing sensibilities of the rural Irish and the cosmopolitan New Yorker, with the latter coming off the loser, of course. Further of course, he finds himself charmed by this forthright, no-nonsense woman who fails to acknowledge his attraction. She has eyes only for the skiddish Anthony, even when she finds him waving a paddle in mid-air and muttering to himself while floating in the middle of a pond, or when the latest rumor has him proposing to a mule.
The story rambles. There are interludes of monologues as Walken riffs on his character’s marriage, drifting in and out of an Irish brogue and pure Walkerisms. Rosemary’s mother (Dearbhla Molloy) warbles (non-musically) philosophically about life and death in the grand scheme of things. Anthony takes a narratively imperative trip to another town in order to open up to the dramatically coiffed woman (Lydia McGuinness) who picks him up the pub and share secrets that can only be told to someone they will never see again. Hers is a doozy, but we have to wait until the end of the film to discover what Anthony whispered in her ear, which caused her to literally fall off her seat. Until then, all we have to go on is the prologue, in which the child Anthony looks out his window and asks God why he mad him this way. Semi-spoiler alert, it’s not any of the usual suspects.
Gorgeously filmed with a dash of poetry to its dialogue and compositions, WILD MOUNTAN THYME is a pleasant enough time while viewing it. Dornan’s equivocation in the face of a rival, along with Blunt’s performance, buoys the film enough to keep an audience interested, if only to find where Shanley is taking this unwieldy effort.