“Wild Mountain Thyme” – This tale of two families – the Reillys and the Muldoons – might be the most Irish film released in 2020 or any year in recent memory. Gorgeous, sweeping shots of Kelly green prairies and rolling hills, crystal blue streams, winding country roads, a wandering sheep herd, and a horse or two grace the screen with proud bravado. Accompanied by a lovely score – heavily influenced by the nation’s traditional music (the The Chieftains, perhaps?) – this welcoming Emerald Isle setting needs a few random shots of Kerrygold butter, a nearby Guinness distributor, and a Riverdance number to feel complete.
I’m teasing, but writer/director John Patrick Shanley’s picture certainly has an Irish fairy tale quality. Filmed in Crossmolina, this enchanted, rustic town in County Mayo – about 250 kilometers from Dublin – is the perfect spot for the movie crew and cast to work their magic.
Now, this light romantic comedy strikes the right tones, because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Unfortunately, the earnest attempts at humor repeatedly falter. Worse yet, rich passion and chemistry must have left on a one-way Aer Lingus flight the day before shooting, which leaves the audience with a clumsy story that feels like an Irish movie parody. That’s quite a feat, especially with a top-notch cast, including Emily Blunt, Jamie Dornan, Christopher Walken, and John Hamm.
Anthony Reilly (Dornan) and Rosemary Muldoon (Blunt) are life-long neighbors. They grew up on their adjacent farms that have been run by their respective families for generations. In fact, the Reilly farm has blossomed for 121 years, and one might suspect that the Muldoon homestead has flourished for about the same lengthy stint. The Reillys and Muldoons aren’t the Hatfields and McCoys, but Anthony and Rosemary carry some noted tension.
Basically, Rosemary wishes that Anthony would court her.
She’s had a thing for him for years, but Anthony’s too emotionally blind or distracted to recognize Rosemary’s amorous wishes. In other words, the central plotline is boy-meets-girl, and then boy-stands-up girl for two-plus decades. Well, as much as Shanley and Dornan attempt to portray Anthony as a clueless klutz, it’s awfully tough for Jamie to convince anyone of that. Come on now, Dornan is one of the most sought after big-screen leading men, and hey, he was Christian Grey for crying out loud.
Yes, despite the infamous “Fifty Shades” trilogy, Jamie is a capable actor, and see the WWII thriller “Anthropoid” (2016) for reference, but awkward fool shouldn’t be on this man’s resume. Still, Shanley wrote that Anthony should frequently look for treasure via a metal detector, randomly trip and fall, practice conversing with Rosemary by speaking to a horse, and finally reveal his irrational internal hurdle in the third act. Incidentally, Anthony’s mental block is so laughably absurd that any audience-empathy – built for the man over the previous 75 minutes – will quickly be dismissed.
To get from here to there, Anthony and his dad (Walken) argue over his inheritance. Also, our lead repeatedly ignores and pushes away Rosemary and casually mentions that Ireland “is a terrible place for a decent person.” With several clunky starts and stops, the film finally starts to run at a brisk, promising pace once Anthony’s American cousin Adam (Hamm) arrives. Even though he rents a Rolls-Royce, Adam might as well have landed in a solid gold 757 draped in American flags. Think back to Hamm’s hilarious turn in “Bridesmaids” (2011), but he dials it down here. Still, Adam’s a direct threat to swoop Rosemary off her feet and fly her back to the U.S. Sure, this potential love triangle bathes in clichés and standard rom-com formulas, but at least Adam gives the film some purpose for a short while. Well, “Wild Mountain Thyme” does offer Blunt and Dornan a chance to sing, and their short but notable ballads are quite beautiful. The locale is too, but this romance doesn’t pass the smell test.
⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Image credits: Bleecker Street; Trailer credits: Movieclips Trailers