Producers: Leslie Urdang, Anthony Bregman, Alex Whitchel, Martina Niland, Michael A. Helfant and Bradley Gallo Director: John Patrick Shanley Screenplay: John Patrick Shanley Cast: Emily Blunt, Jamie Dornan, Jon Hamm, Dearbhla Molloy, Christopher Walken, Danielle Ryan, Barry McGovern, Tommy O’Neill, Lydia McGuinness, Don Wycherley, Claire Barrett, Darragh O’Kane and Abigail Coburn Distributor: Bleecker Street
Blarney blossoms to extraordinary levels in the screenplay John Patrick Shanley has fashioned from his 2014 play “Outside Mullingar.” Of recent tales set in Ireland, the syrupy “Wild Mountain Thyme” can be thought of as the antithesis of the sort of rude, raucous, violent ones written by the likes of Martin McDonagh. It’s more along the lines of “The Quiet Man,” though hardly up to the John Ford standard, or the one Shanley set for himself with his script for a similarly convoluted romance, but with an Italian inflection, in “Moonstruck.”
The plot is an exceedingly slender piece of romantic whimsy recounting the protracted emotional journey that the a man and woman on adjacent farms, clearly meant for each other but long kept apart for absurd reasons, must endure before admitting their love.
On the Reilly land, Anthony (Jamie Dornan) lives with his father Tony (Christopher Walken), a cantankerous widower. Across the boundary line Aoife Muldoon (Dearbhla Molloy) has just lost her husband Chris (Don Wycherley), leaving her alone with their daughter Rosemary (Emily Blunt). There’s a further complication in that Tony sold a small parcel of his family’s land—one that gave him access to the road—to the Muldoons some time ago, requiring the Reillys to open and close a couple of gates in going and coming. Eventually Tony will reveal the sappy reason for the sale, which involved his wife Mary (originally a Kelly, and played in flashbacks by Claire Barrett), to Anthony.
Rosemary has been in love with Anthony since they were kids (played in flashback by Darragh O’Kane and Abigail Coburn), but he once pushed her down, and she’s been standoffish ever since. For his part, Anthony sees himself as a bit touched in the head, and so unworthy of her; even Tony thinks he might be more of a Kelly than a Reilly, and so is considering—or so he says—leaving the land to somebody else. And why is Anthony moseying about, scouring the property with a metal detector? The answer is another part of an extremely sentimental scenario Shanley has confected.
Yet another ripple comes with the arrival of Tony’s nephew Adam Kelly (Jon Hamm in a thoroughly thankless role), a well-to-do American who’s interested in acquiring Irish land—and an Irish wife. In one of the more bathetic threads in the script, Rosemary takes a quick trip to New York City, meets with Adam there and invites him to the ballet before they fly back together. (Rosemary, you see, has been obsessed with Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” since she was a kid—in fact she sometimes dances to the waltz in her front yard, ever since her dad referred to her as a princess. Talk about shameless treacle!) So they might prove a match. But you know they won’t, though in the feel-good ending even Adam finds what he’s looking for, even if he might not get the farm.)
There’s some fun to be had in the sheer brazenness of Shanley’s Irish cliché. His inclusion of a neighbor named Cleary (Barry McGovern), who rejoices in bearing bad news and chiding others for their foibles, brings some smiles, and a digression about Chris Muldoon’s propensity for shooting crows adds a sad touch to the grins. But that sort of amusement is cancelled out by some heavy-handed symbolism, like the repeated allusions to Rosemary’s horse, which keeps getting out of its fenced-in field to roam—the animal reflects its owner’s free-spiritedness, you see?
On the other hand, Molloy and the supporting players selected to provide local color do precisely that, and Walken brings his usual bemused quirkiness to Tony Reilly, masticating if not mastering the necessary brogue. Blunt and Dornan are an attractive pair, even if they’re somewhat stiff and can’t entirely sell the characters’ peculiarities (or their accents). Poor Hamm just seems lost at sea. There’s nothing special about Anna Rockard’s production design or Stephen Goldblatt’s cinematography—given the mood of the picture, you might expect that they would have striven for a greater sense of natural beauty—and Ian Blume’s editing is a mite clumsy at times; but overall the picture is technically adequate, and Amelia Warner’s gently Celtic score is attractive without becoming excessively maudlin (the “Swan Lake” excerpts apart).
The time Shanley’s film provides is certainly not wild, but it may be ingratiating enough for those with a weakness for schmaltz with a Celtic component.