VOD film review: Wild Mountain Thyme
James R | On 04, May 2021
Director: John Patrick Shanley
Cast: Emily Blunt, Jamie Dornan, Jon Hamm, Christopher Walken
“Welcome to Ireland,” declares a voice that sounds strangely like Christopher Walken at the start of Wild Mountain Thyme, while the camera flies over an unnaturally green landscape. When you realise that the voice actually is Christopher Walken, the disjunction makes a little more sense. This clearly isn’t meant to be Ireland at all. It’s a strange facsimile of Ireland that isn’t realistic or even remotely believable, like watching a version of the country made by aliens whose only knowledge of it comes from watching repeats of Mrs Brown’s Boys. There’s no other explanation for the bizarre creation that follows – a story populated by people who look like humans but don’t behave like them, performed by Irish characters who don’t sound remotely Irish, and written in words that resemble no sentences you’ve ever seen.
Taken individually, each of these problems wouldn’t be an obstacle to enjoying Wild Mountain Thyme, but together they form an insurmountable wall of hogwash. From the first time we meet Emily Blunt’s Rosemary – smoking a pipe, because of reasons – the whole thing is immediately ridiculous. The land dispute between her and neighbouring farmer Anthony (Jamie Dornan), which goes back to a childhood crush that most grown-ups would have forgotten about, is the only convincing part of this overly syrupy romantic drama – in no other story would such an absurd plot point make sense.
Anthony is waiting to inherit the family farm from his dad, Tony (Christopher Walken), but Tony is planning to give the estate to his American cousin, Adam (Jon Hamm), who swaggers into this eccentric scene with a new coat and an apparent soft spot for twee clichés. Jon Hamm is the only one who comes out of this unscathed, mainly because he’s the sole cast member not attempting an Irish accent. Nobody succeeds on that front, not even the underrated Jamie Dornan, who was born not far away in Belfast. Christopher Walken, meanwhile, couldn’t sound more like Christopher Walken if he tried – it takes a lot for a film to make that a bad thing.
Writer-director John Patrick Shanley, who penned the classic Moonstruck and thought-provoking drama Doubt, certainly knows his way around a script with compelling characters. Adapting his own Broadway play, though, it’s hard to buy that it’s the same person responsible – it would make more sense for a gigantic bee to have taken over in the middle of the first draft. Or for the stereotypical dialogue to have been based on the back of a Lucky Charms cereal box. Even the visuals feel disappointingly artificial, thanks to illogical framing choices and handheld camera shots that can’t stay still long enough for you to at least admire the scenery.
The result is a descent into uncanny valley rather than a steamy romp through the Irish hills. It could almost be destined to become a cult classic, if it weren’t so determined to take itself seriously. As for why Tony doesn’t want to give the farm to his son (and why Anthony hasn’t yet settled down with Rosemary), the reveal is so silly that it’s impossible not to laugh. It’s just a shame that nobody on screen seems to be in on the joke.