WILD MOUNTAIN THYME does something other romantic comedies aren’t able to do often ...
WILD MOUNTAIN THYME (2020)
By their sheer reputation, romantic comedies are formulaic. I had a little trepidation proceeding with Wild Mountain Thyme, unsure if this film would speak to me. But the casting choices were respectable. It’s set in Ireland and that was already a break in convention. I didn’t want to give an unfair bias to a film I had never seen. Specifically, a romcom. Fortunately, Wild Mountain Thyme was nothing like what I expected.
Writer/Director John Patrick Shanley already has an impressive catalog standing behind him that I’ve grown to appreciate. Moonstruck and Doubt, and to a lesser extent Congo come to mind. Wild Mountain Thyme is a story very intimate to Shanley. This is not just because this film is based on his own play. He shrewdly handles this story with characters chock full of Irish sensibilities. Their machinations of both quiet reserve and melodrama play well into each other. This creates a separation between the expectations of a typical American romantic comedy. Shanley’s framing of space and distance between his characters are delivered gracefully.
In a corner of Ireland, two farms are intersected with each other, signified by contested gates. One farm is owned by an aging surly man (Christopher Walken) who tends to the grounds with his son (Jamie Dornan). The adjacent farm is run by a resourceful and candid woman Rosemary (Emily Blunt). Her aging mother Aoife (Dearhbla Molloy) maintains the house and what is left of her health. After the death of his wife, Tony (Walken) seeks to absorb the neighboring farmland, eventually looking to pass on the farm to better hands. He doesn’t consider his son Anthony (Dornan) to own those hands.
Much to Anthony’s chagrin, Tony looks to sell his farm to his nephew in America, Adam (Jon Hamm). After a quick visit to the farm, Adam plans to make good on the offer. He notices the beautiful Rosemary and she is momentarily charmed by Adam’s good looks, and enticement to go to his native New York and see ballet for her first time. What Adam misses is that for years, Rosemary has been pining over her neighbor Anthony. Always openly, and sometimes quite aggressively. This is where the plot goes, and a lot of it is indeed predictable. There are some shiny moments between characters with dialogue, but more on that soon. Unfortunately, the brighter moments full of snarky dialogue and glasses of Guinness aren’t enough to elevate this film above the clutches of pandering Hallmark beats.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Shining through the muck of a plot devoid of any real surprise are the performances of the cast. If Irish accents are your thing, this movie has them in abundance. In that regard, Jon Hamm is the only outlier here. Granted, my soft American ears cannot detect true Irish authenticity against what could be considered regrettable attempts by its non-Irish players. For my money, Christopher Walken and Emily Blunt were convincing enough. But what makes its way past the point of accents are the conversations held in doorways and at dinner tables. And the lovely moments of singing. The written dialogue isn’t too impressive or original, but it’s the bounce and lilt that accompanies their vocal delivery that sets it apart from the flock of other romance tales. This is indeed a credit to its origins as a play.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
The only visual effect at work in this romantic charming film is the sweeping and luscious shots of the Irish countryside. Drone shots passing over fields and streams constantly remind us how beautiful untouched land can still be. If the words in Wild Mountain Thyme are a love letter to the stage, the establishing shots are a love letter to the Emerald Isle herself.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
I have little to write here. There is not a traditional score, save for the many Irish tunes sung throughout the film. I suppose the songs played here, to include the eponymous “Wild Mountain Thyme”, are in fact a score with respect to Ireland. There is a brief respite when Rosemary gets her wish and visits Adam briefly in New York to go see “Swan Lake”. Besides that Tchaikovsky interlude, all of the music here belongs because it is so unabashedly Irish. That is a good thing.
First time viewers will be tempted to look at Wild Mountain Thyme with a supposition that teeters on wholly familiar territory. They would be right only marginally however. It is not at all ground-breaking, but Wild Mountain Thyme does something other romantic comedies aren’t able to do often: earn a second viewing. While the plot harbors comical transparency, it is framed around a rich tapestry of words and an ether of beautiful spaces between them. And of course, the accents. Sláinte!
Bleecker Street will release WILD MOUNTAIN THYME in theaters and on demand December 11th, 2020