Wild Mountain Thyme

Brian Quinn

Begosh and Begorrah!

“Once Upon A Time in Ireland,” narrates Christopher Walken, welcoming us into a country as grand as it is unfamiliar. This isn’t Ireland as we know it, as we knew it, nor how we’d ever imagine it to be. Here’s a handy tip: You can usually tell if a film set in Ireland is Irishmade or not by the shade of its grass. By my metric, Wild Mountain Thyme hits the ‘Radioactive Green’ side of the scale. 

Yet, this is nothing new for us. Ireland’s image on the silver screen has predominantly been a murky stew of dubious accents and bright vegetation. From John Ford’s The Quiet Man (1949) to Leap Year (2010), all roads, both rocky and winding, inevitably lead to Fantasy. And that’s what John Patrick Shanley’s Wild Mountain Thyme essentially is, and proudly so. Sure, we encounter ancient curses and family feuds along the way, but as soon as we hear the words “Once Upon A Time”, we know there will be a “Happily Ever After” sooner or later.

To help bring his fairytale to life, Shanley drafts in some of Hollywood’s heavy-hitters. Emily Blunt and Jamie Dornan co-star as Rosemary Muldoon and Anthony Reilly. Doe eyed and dim, Anthony is what the kids nowadays would call a himbo (a nifty portmanteau of the words him and bimbo) while Rosemary is your stock country girl, no-nonsense and all-sass. Little does Anthony know, however, Rosemary has her heart set on him. It’s only when his father (Walken) plans to sell the family farm to his American nephew, played by the ever so square-jawed Jon Hamm, that Anthony is jolted into pursuing his dreams, once and for all.

When the trailer for Wild Mountain Thyme dropped last November, the pushback was immediate. Twitter ablaze, jaws agape, it quickly became the “have you seen” conversation starter we all so craved during lockdown 2.0. The hysteria was so universal in fact – accents and excessive whimsy attracting the brunt of it – that even The National Leprechaun Museum of Ireland got in on the action by tweeting, ‘even we think this is a bit much’. Shots fired!

To his credit, Shanley delivers what was promised. It’s an odd film, more than ‘a bit much’. But admittedly, a film centered around two oddballs has no choice but to be. Yes, the twee is nauseating, the accents are wobbly – Walken firmly in a league of his own here – but most disappointing is the fact that the film never fully commits itself to its own absurdity. What we get is a movie lost between two tones: sincere romance and an all out spoof. Audiences looking for lessons in love will have to trudge through dozens of lame gags just to be within earshot, while those hoping for an unapologetic cringefest will need to prepare themselves for the film’s many drawn-out, listless scenes.

It beggars belief that Shanley, whose previous outings as a screenwriter include Moonstruck (1987), Joe Versus the Volcano (1990) and the exceptional Doubt (2008), is even capable of writing a script as barmy as Wild Mountain Thyme. “All the buildings look like teeth,” Rosemary declares upon arriving at New York City during a brief getaway. Stranger still is an earlier scene where her mother puts forth the hypothesis that “glass tastes like teeth.” A slanted sense of humour must run in the family—either that or I’m beginning to think that Shanley squandered his boyhood dreams of becoming a director rather than a dentist.

What’s for certain, though, is cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt’s shooting strategy: go big or go home. From sweeping aerial shots of lush, rolling hills to intimate close-ups aglow with cottage candlelight, we feel a fairy tale in full flow. Taking it a step too far, however, the score offers us a dizzying brew of sounds flipping between grand orchestral swooshes and little Oirish ditties. Thankfully, Sinead O’Connor is on hand to lend her voice to an original song. Written by the director himself, O’Connor’s I’ll Be Singing plays during the closing credits and ends an otherwise tasteless film on a sweet note.

These moments of sincerity are few and far between. The parts that do work usually occur when the film stops trying so hard to please us, puts down the Lucky Charms and gives its actors – and us – a chance to breathe. Does the film deserve the widespread ridicule it’s received? This reviewer remains unconvinced: like most things that funnel through the Twittersphere, the reaction has been overblown by hot-takes from even hotter heads. Yes, it’s ill-conceived and rickety from start to finish, yet, for all its faults, Wild Mountain Thyme is not a cynical film. It’s unabashedly fluffy and light, so much so you just might fly away with it—away with the fairies. 

Wild Mountain Thyme debuted April 30th, available on platforms such as Sky, Amazon Prime Video, Apple, Google Play, Virgin, Talk Talk, BT, Rakuten, XBOX, Sony PS, Chili TV, and Showcase At Home.

Image: Jamie Dornan and Emily Blunt. Image courtesy Kerry Brown/Bleecker Street.