Emma Donnelly waves her shillelagh at the clouds.
“Sure, why would a heathen man like Tony Reilly be kneeling in a church?” asks Emily Blunt’s character Rosemary in another damp squib of a dialogue driven-joke. Why, indeed? When it comes to Wild Mountain Thyme, “why” is the word of the hour. Why on earth set a story which is clearly based in a fictitious, whimsical version of historical Ireland in the modern day? Why would acting titans like Blunt, Jamie Doran, Jon Hamm and Christopher Walken sign on for this hot mess? Why wouldn’t John Patrick Shanley hire an accent coach? And why wouldn’t this director just run the script past at least one actual Irish person?
It was eleven years ago when another red-haired Hollywood A-lister starred in a cliched film featuring rolling green hills that could also easily double as an ad for Bord Failte. Playing a clumsy, love-struck American, Amy Adams spent days road tripping across this tiny Island in Leap Year. Much in the same way as this film, that cheesy RomCom sold a prescribed notion of “Oirishness” back to the Americans – but did so with a modicum of humour and silliness. Wild Mountain Thyme, however, lacks the inane charm… or any actual jokes, and perhaps commits what is the most unforgivable sin of all: notions. Wild Mountain Thyme is wall-to-wall pretentious, theatrical dialogue. This annoying vernacular lacks any of the truth or charm of hiberno english, and is instead an inane cocktail of nonsensical, twee sayings, shakespearean-esque phrases and metaphors from angsty teenage poetry. Hands up who has ever described an evening as being “as black as tar” in conversation? Do I have any former goths in the house?
The problems with Wild Mountain Thyme are extensive, and begin and end with the script. This is somewhat surprising considering its author. Writer/director John Patrick Shanley has awards up the jacksy. He won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Moonstruck in 1988. He adapted and directed Doubt which featured none other than Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep. That masterful piece of writing earned him a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. One of the most striking films of the decade, Doubt showed a deep understanding of structure, tension, complex character development and visual storytelling. Absolutely none of which exist in Wild Mountain Thyme.
The story begins with the voiceover of Christopher Walken’s awkward brogue, introducing us to two farms, where the two neighbouring families get on well, but have some vague issue with gates. After a run in with her neighbour Anthony, a young Rosemary tells her father “I have no purpose. I’m just a girl. The world is full of girls.” – proving once again that old white men can easily inhabit the deeply existential world of teenage girls and should never stop trying to. Her father then informs her that she’s actually a swan, which settles the issue and somehow becomes a theme through the story.
Years later, when Rosemary (Blunt) and Anthony (Doran) are grown up and they both desperately want to marry each other, but do nothing about it for some reason. Trying to work up the courage to propose, Anthony confesses his love to a donkey. Later, he floats down the river in a pod-boat and falls in and then they all go to the pub to drink Guinness where Rosemary sings the titular song. Tony Muldoon (Walken) toys with the idea of selling his land, and so we are introduced to the “Yank” – a handsome worldly American cousin (Jon Hamm), whom Anthony collects from Dublin airport while wearing wellies.
With her stew cooking, shawl-wearing, pipe-smoking ways, modern Irish woman Rosemary instantly proves irresistible to the yank after one brief kiss. Now she is left with an impossible choice: either she must marry an affectionate, rich, handsome, kind articulate man who challenges her, or a rude, socially-awkward recluse who has rejected her her whole life. Tough one, Rosemary.
Whatever you’re picturing after watching that infamous trailer, this film is infinitely worse. The performances, aesthetics and sound design are all fine, however, when you build a house on a steaming foundation of faeces, all the potpourri in the world won’t make it smell any better. It’s too hard to get on board with these characters, they are deeply unlikable, unrelatable and lack any form of agency. Even watching this film ironically was a struggle. The only thing that got me through the glacial hour and forty minutes, was imagining the merciless slagging Jamie Doran will get from the lads down the local next time he’s home to County Down.
Fun fact: the song “Wild Mountain Thyme” isn’t Irish. It’s Scottish.
Wild Mountain Thyme is available on digital from 30th April 30 2021.