Review: Wild Mountain Thyme

 Director: John Patrick Shanley

Stars: Emily Blunt, Jamie Dornan, Jon Hamm

John Patrick Shanley is a man of multifaceted talents (playwright, songwriter, director) none of which manifest in the unfathomable Wild Mountain Thyme. Every now and then we’re gifted a film so bafflingly incoherent, tonally disastrous and casually awful that it reminds us how easily this miraculous collaborative medium can spin right off its axis. Think The RoomSerenityCats. Shanley has stumbled into this most dubious of traditions, fashioning a film that’ll draw howls from the crowds who positively live for this kind of spirited cinematic belly-flop. 

Based on his own play and taking place – apparently – in present day Ireland, Shanley’s film presents itself as a kind of prat-falling romantic comedy inhabited by a carnival of witless rural stereotypes, very few of whom appear familiar with an Irish accent. Their miscellaneous rural community is depicted as a kind of ship-in-a-bottle Hobbiton, in which nothing is more contentious than some issue involving a set of poorly-designed gates (even a visiting American remarks upon it).

Principally it’s a tale of two farms. Cresting 75, the patriarch of the Reilly family, Tony (Christopher Walken), has decided to accept death and pass on his lands. Tony’s son Anthony (Jamie Dornan) assumes he will inherit, however Tony has other ideas; eyeing an American cousin, Adam (Jon Hamm, gurning incessantly). Tony’s reticence comes from his son’s belief that he’ll remain a bachelor, and something to do with Anthony’s taste for fish…

Over the way lives Rosemary (Emily Blunt), recently orphaned daughter of the Muldoon family, who stomps around admonishing Tony, and waiting for Anthony to propose to her. While we await the same we’re treated to practice proposals on donkeys, daft musings on the after life (“Where do we go when we die? The sky?”) and a lot of whinging about those damned gates.

Wild Mountain Thyme seems happy mocking its collection of characters, feeding them dross dialogue and mining their hapless antics for smatterings of limp slapstick. Imagine a brooding romantic melodrama with the same instincts as Last of the Summer Wine and you’re partway to picturing the humdrum nonsense offered up by Shanley here. His countryside seems like a wholly imagined place, a contradictory utopia both romantic and deserving of his (and our) derision. 

At times it seems like Shanley is in on his picture’s high-wire camp. At others, he presents utter nonsense with guileless sincerity (see Rosemary’s diamond-sharp belief that she is the White Swan from Swan Lake). Pivoting between positions in and out of the joke makes for a wildly incoherent experience. That’s a big part of what’s quickly turning the film into an instant meme factory.

Performances only exacerbating the problem. Blunt and Walken sound dreadful. Hamm and Dornan wrestle for who can appear the bigger ‘eejit’. But really, one senses, they’re all being guided to catastrophe by Shanley, whose words and instincts have completely failed him this time. As with the ‘best’ of such bombs, one imagines that a lot of this could’ve been avoided with someone on-hand to simply say “no” more often. 

But then, if such people had been there maybe we wouldn’t have the eroticism of Rosemary’s sandwich making, Anthony’s love affair with his metal detector, talk of “Eurofloozies”, New York skyscrapers that look like teeth, or those fucking gates.

Or Anthony’s most-personal confession which, at the very least, trumps Rosemary’s swan fixation. I didn’t laugh; I sat open-mouthed, incredulous. There is no preparing for it.

Wild Mountain Thyme presents rural Ireland as a fantasy land living a full century behind the rest of us. A self-contained commune for the simple-minded. In this way, you could call it an insane time-travel movie with the most inane romance at its centre, one that’s about as sexy as an episode of Father Ted. 

At least it’s funny. In its own way.

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