Wild Mountain Thyme review – Emily Blunt's Irish romcom is a mess

The actor stars alongside Jamie Dornan as stubborn farmers in this clumsy adaptation of John Patrick Shanley’s play Outside Mullingar

If you’ve seen the trailer for Wild Mountain Thyme, writer-director John Patrick Shanley’s not-quite-a-romcom about two thirtysomething “star-crossed” (slow to settle into their inevitable pairing) lovers/farmers in rural Ireland, then you’ve most likely slammed into the question: what is going on with the accents? The mere teaser, with narration by American actor Christopher Walken, triggered an Irish accent emergency upon its release last month. The fears were justified: the accents are indeed bad. But that could be overlooked, perhaps even be endearing, with the requisite romcom chemistry or whimsy found between two emotionally repressed, isolated people learning to open up. Unfortunately, Shanley’s adaptation of his 2014 Broadway play Outside Mullingar has little to recommend besides some truly beautiful shots of Ireland’s County Mayo – it’s a visually verdant but emotionally flat film whose confusing friction between two miscast leads frustrates rather than engrosses.

It is worth mentioning that Walken’s accent is especially bad as the crotchety Tony Reilly, waxing about the long history of his family’s farm abutting that of Chris Muldoon, whose rain-soaked wake precedes the first scene. Muldoon’s daughter Rosemary (Emily Blunt, sadly also a casualty of the accent curse) grew up pining for Tony’s boy, Anthony, played as an awkward, introverted adult by the Northern Irish but still accent-afflicted actor Jamie Dornan. Nearing his own demise and inexplicably hung up on Anthony’s bachelorhood, Tony stings his son by suggesting he pass the farm to a long-lost, sensible (read: practical, unromantic financier) nephew in New York, Adam (Jon Hamm). The one hindrance, besides betraying years of his son’s efforts: a strip of land cutting off access to the Reilly farm (the logistics are confusing – it involves two oft-mentioned gates) and owned by Rosemary, who remains determined to marry an aloof Anthony.

Many of the film’s issues probably derive from its source material, which marked Debra Messing’s Broadway debut (with her own appalling Irish accent) as Rosemary and opened to tepidly mixed reviews – the Hollywood Reporter praised the play’s “emotional generosity”, while the Irish Times deemed the work “mystifyingly awful”. Shanley, who won a best screenplay Oscar for Moonstruck, and a Pulitzer and Tony for his 2004 play Doubt: A Parable, has penned a confusingly shallow script that brings the play’s emotional thinness and anachronisms into distracting, confounding focus. The story is ostensibly set in the present day, yet no character uses a cellphone or the internet. Anthony and Rosemary are allegedly in their mid-to-late 30s, yet there’s no indication of a romantic history or even life before the first scene (were they friends growing up? Teenage lovers? Did they live as neighbors for decades and just … not speak?) Rosemary has barely left her farm in western Ireland yet impulsively and seamlessly pulls off a two-day round trip to New York City to see a flirtatious Adam, and the most fazing event is the emotional resonance of the Swan Lake ballet.

That Wild Mountain Thyme makes little logistical or temporal sense is not unique or even imperiling for a romantic comedy, which can spin gold out of straw scaffolding with the gift of charm, chemistry or the basic intrigue of will-they, won’t-they hijinks. That’s unfortunately missing here, as the film’s central tension – Anthony and Rosemary’s eventual union, it is not a spoiler when the resolution is so obviously baked into the premise – is undercut by a murky lack of conflict. What, exactly, keeps them apart? Shanley’s script chalks Anthony’s reluctance to propose to Rosemary up to a family curse of hard-headedness but there’s something vital missing.

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Absent any friction other than unsubstantiated stubbornness (and, in a baffling and strange late reveal, some magical realist thinking), it’s difficult to feel invested in the couple’s skirting around what seems to be a very straightforward and inevitable conversation. Instead, their final, minutes-long, romance-sparking row feels like watching two people argue over the infamous internet dress picture: circular and nonsensical to an outsider, impassioned but devoid of grounded feeling, ultimately stakes-less despite, in this case, a kiss in the rain (as promised on the film’s promotional poster).

Shallowness aside, Wild Mountain Thyme has some merits. Stephen Goldblatt’s lush, tourism ad-esque cinematography on location in County Mayo is liable to make viewers pull a Rosemary and book a quick zip to the Emerald Isle as soon as this godforsaken pandemic is over. Dearbhla Molloy brings a wry grace (and an inoffensive accent) to Aoife, Rosemary’s wizened mother, the character who most successfully evokes the nostalgia and parochial familiarity the film strains to create. In other words, it’s certainly watchable, even pleasant – if you can get past whatever nonsense the characters are saying.

  • Wild Mountain Thyme is released in cinemas and digitally in the US on 11 December with a UK date to be announced

Contributor

Adrian Horton

The GuardianTramp

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