Connect with us

Movie Reviews

Wild Mountain Thyme ★★



Director: John Patrick Shanley

Starring: Emily Blunt, Jamie Dornan, Christopher Walken, Jon Hamm

Released: April 30th (Home Premiere in the UK)

It’s been a fair little while since we last received a really good bad film. You know the sort – a film which defies any self-awareness in its heinous misdirection, makes bona fide stars make fools of themselves for our entertainment, and somehow bends all the way back around to something resembling pure escapist joy for its absolute batshittery. Well, with the upcoming release of John Patrick Shanley’s Wild Mountain Thyme, it is my pleasure to report that we have struck the pot o’ gold at the end of the rainbow of films that are so bad they’re actually good.

Blithely beginning with travelogue-like aerial shots of Ireland’s luscious green landscape set to a blusterful folksy score from Amelia Warner, Moonstruck writer Shanley wastes no time in inculcating an atmosphere of fantasy and folly. As Christopher Walken – yes, actual Christopher Walken – chirps up to declare in an opening narration, “Welcome to Ireland, my name’s Tony Reilly, and I’m dead!”, his out-of-whack syllable inflections colliding gloriously with an attempted Irish lilt that lands only approximately once per line of dialogue, it is made abundantly clear that we are to strap ourselves in tight, pat our lucky shillelaghs, and kiss goodbye to any hopes of a respectful tale steeped in Irish folklore.

Technically speaking, Wild Mountain Thyme – adapted from Shanley’s play Outside Mullingar – is a romantic comedy. In actuality, it is an out-and-out farce. The film is set in the fictitious County Mayo and revolves around two families, the very Oirishly named Reillys and Muldoons, whose neighbouring farm homes are separated by a simple gate and their off-springs will-they/won’t-they romance.

Muldoon, daughter Rosemary, played and made up with seemingly every Irish stereotype possible by the distinctly not Irish Emily Blunt, has pined hopelessly for Reilly lad Anthony (Jamie Dornan) since the pair were children. Between dancing in the rain to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and rearing her wild horse that refuses to be tamed (a metaphor? Never!), Rosemary never expresses her emotions by halves. As such, the world around her seems to exist as an extension of her caustic emotions, rainstorms, rogue stallions and all.

Anthony, on the other hand, a milquetoast man-child with an unexplained and largely unexplored, deeply held secret that leads to one of the most stunningly unexpected plot twists in cinematic history, is an altogether more enigmatic and odd entity. Played by actual Irishman Jamie Dornan with somehow the most suspect and inauthentic brogue of all the film’s main players, Anthony is a shambling man who can often be found searching for family secrets in verdant fields with his trusty metal detector or practising proposals on a donkey that village madman Bad New Cleary frequently suggests he may in fact be besotted with (which, in the film’s context, somehow isn’t all that implausible). Lacking the expressivity of Rosemary, mustering little better by way of flirtation than declaring Ireland ‘a terrible place for a decent person’ and falling off his boat when caught conversing with the bees, Anthony’s affection for his neighbour is undoubtedly existent. Still, like the gate betwixt them, he can’t do anything without being pushed or pulled into it.

When Anthony’s daddy Tony, swiftly approaching death, reveals he’s considering passing the Reilly family farm along to long-lost nephew Adam (a mercifully non-accented Jon Hamm), the flailing Reilly son is forced to try and find a way to articulate his love for Rosemary and overcome his inner conflicts. When Adam arrives, with his American sheen and swagger matched by a self-confidence that emboldens him to swoop in and snog his cousin’s would-be lover without a second thought, years of tension both sexual and otherwise come to the surface between clans Muldoon and Reilly.

Whilst the basic plot beats across the film’s first two acts are fairly standard rom-com fodder, forgiving chintzy, twee musical interludes and repeated scenes of stew-eating, legacial filibustering, and allusions to fantastical goings-on that are shackled to a thuddingly dull and antiquated screenplay and production design – the film is set in the present, but besides a brief jaunt to New York, could just as easily be set 200 years ago – Wild Mountain Thyme’s tone-deaf portrayal of Ireland and abysmal writing and performances forces viewers to sacrifice any hope for romance and find their own comedy in proceedings to get by.

Thankfully, there is much to laugh at here. Whether it’s Emily Blunt’s occasional lapses into a Jamaican accent as she over-reaches in the pursuit of Irish authenticity – “How many days do we have while the sun shines?” is delivered like a lost Bob Marley lyric, or whether it’s turning every pan-flute drop and stew-eating scene into a drinking game (you’ll be blind drunk by the second act), there is something to be said for watching a mostly talented cast, and a writer-director capable of brilliance (cf; Doubt, Moonstruck, Joe Versus The Volcano) commit to film what essentially amounts to an act of war upon the Irish people. Heaven knows they’ve been through enough already!

Nothing, however, nothing at all, will prepare you for the film’s ending, which justifies the whole experience and promises to elevate this otherwise laughable bit of fluff into something that will attain cult status amongst a select, dedicated few who find it. Having spent an entire film skirting around the source of Anthony’s inability to woo Rosemary and her frustrations with him as she has done all that she can to make him take notice of her, we are entreated to a ten-minute warts-and-all slew of revelations about the pair. And when we find out why Anthony can’t commit to a relationship, why he can’t stand Rosemary’s smoking, and why he is just so very, very weird, well… let’s just say Wild Mountain Thyme has the single most mindblowing plot twist ever committed to film, and M. Night Shyamalan could never have conceived of something so utterly bizarre.

Wild Mountain Thyme is handsomely mounted (in a travel ad sort of way), beautifully scored (in a travel ad sort of way) shambles of a movie. Illogical, incoherent, lacking any performative class or gravitas, and possessing a script that feels like the result of one of those bots that eats thousands of pages of other scripts and regurgitates an algorithmically created new monstrosity, all whilst being possibly the worst thing to happen to Ireland since the famine, Shanley’s film should be unforgivable. And yet, AND YET, such is its singular insanity and perversely charming and unaware send-up of everything good and virtuous about the Emerald Isle and the humble rom-com that it actually ends up being a brilliant work of blarney and utter bobbins. The best worst film of 2021.

A simple guy. Loves film. Watches film. Writes about film. Talks about film. Then the cycle repeats.

Just For You