Emily Blunt and Jamie Dornan star as Irish neighbors in “Wild Mountain Thyme,” from prolific writer-director John Patrick Shanley. Most known for his Academy Award-winning screenplay for “Moonstruck,” the iconic New York playwright adapted the new film from his 2014 stage play “Outside Mullingar.” Despite some baffling plot points that can be chalked up to symbolic significance, this oddball dramedy is worth watching for its scenic backdrop, compelling lead actors and daringly unique dialogue that actually says something about life, love and loneliness.
Rosemary Muldoon (Blunt) has long harbored feelings for the boy – now man – who lives on the neighboring farm, introverted Anthony Reilly (Dornan). When it appears that Anthony’s father, played with signature strangeness by a brogue-bearing Christopher Walken, does not plan to leave the land to Anthony in his will unless he marries, Anthony has to make a choice – act on his long friendship and feelings for Rosemary, or let them both continue to suffer lonely, monotonous lives on neighboring farms.
“Rosemary and Anthony…Romeo’s not able to climb the balcony and Juliet won’t come down. They’re in the second half of their 30s, and what’s going to happen?” Shanley said. “I couldn’t let these characters go. So when the opportunity came to go at it again as a film, and then to be able to actually go to Ireland and shoot in that unbelievably beautiful country, among the wonderful and eccentric people who live there — that was thrilling to me.”
Filmed last fall in County Mayo, “Wild Mountain Thyme” is incredibly picturesque and will make viewers long for the “green fields” that make Anthony stick around despite dreams of leaving.
With the beautiful countryside captured by cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt and a stunning score courtesy of Amelia Warner in her third turn as composer, Shanley’s film adaptation is an eccentric story about the difference between fate and choices, destiny and action. But it’s ultimately a love story about two people who must act in order to realize a better future – a story of acceptance and loving “all” of someone. It’s incredibly rare to see two people onscreen who are hesitant to act on their feelings for each other, especially after a life-long kinship, with shared experiences of loss and feeling misunderstood. It’s a non-traditional narrative to say the least, but what real love story is traditional?
Jon Hamm co-stars as a money-mongering American nephew who could inherit the family’s land if Anthony doesn’t act fast. As always, he is an actor who effortlessly embodies exactly what he is supposed to: in this case, the American obsession with numbers, possessions and things. His Irish counterparts have refreshingly different priorities that exude a calm confidence – if not always satisfaction with their lives. Anthony puts it best: they do “what they must,” and America could sure use some of that perspective these days – but it’s actually the very thing that keeps his character from Rosemary, his inability to go for what he wants.
What Anthony sees as dreary and dark, Rosemary sees as sunny and possible – at least at first. With hints of Irish wisdom and beautiful musical moments including the moving song that inspired the film title, “Wild Mountain Thyme” allows us to travel to a peaceful far-away farm with funny, unique inhabitants. But it’s the dialogue, so clearly meant for the sounds of a stage, that allow Shanley to examine how two people who live so close and have known each other for so long can view their lives so differently.
The densely-packed rhythm of the words could only be penned by an award-winning playwright, even when the plot doesn’t translate fluently to the screen. The exchange of wit and words between Blunt and Dornan and the frustration of their long-anticipated union is palpable and interesting.
“Reading it was a completely singular experience, like one beautiful poem on love and loneliness,” Blunt said of the story. “I instantaneously wanted to do it.”
“It has a mystical, magical quality to it that is truly its own thing in the best possible way,” Dornan said. “He has a knack for bringing out the oddities in people that make them their brilliant selves. The script has a quirky sense of reality and snappy, unbelievable dialogue. The sense of loss, the heart, the humor — so much humor — all feel totally authentically Irish.”
At the very least, the film is timely because it is about two lonely people contemplating their futures. A release at likely the loneliest collective time in modern history is only fitting, and the idea of finding someone who was there all along is comforting – and at times, wildly entertaining.