Movie Review: “Wild Mountain Thyme”

Some romances are meant to be. Whatever gets in their way, whatever surrounds them, it doesn’t matter – they are meant to be. With “Wild Mountain Thyme,” writer-director John Patrick Shanley gives us one such tale and it is heartwarming and funny and a feel-good experience.

Taking place in Ireland, this is the story of Rosemary (Emily Blunt) and Anthony (Jamie Dornan). The two adults live on neighboring farms, as they have since they were little. The whole thing is just this simple tale of these two people on these two farms and life continuing as it has for years on end, there is something magical in the telling.

That telling is narrated by Anthony’s father, Tony (Christopher Walken), who is merrily offering up his take from beyond the grave, and who, for what it’s worth, is alive as the film starts. Yes, we see Tony die. The story, in fact, only gets going with the death of Rosemary’s father.

People die in “Wild Mountain Thyme,” and while the occasions are undeniably sad, Shanley imbues the entire movie with a very down to earth feel. These are farms that have existed for generations, and death is a part of that. Sad, yes, but part of the world.

Blunt’s Rosemary is a fantastically strong person who manages to run her farm on her own and knows what she wants – Anthony. No small aspect of that desire is her need to see him take a step towards acknowledging his interest in her.

For his part, Dornan’s Anthony is this closed off man, seemingly worn down by decades of hurt and upset. Tony doesn’t want to leave his son the farm, preferring to sell it to his nephew, Adam (Jon Hamm), for reasons that don’t necessarily make great sense. Anthony clearly loves Rosemary and wants to be with her, but he’s unable to move forward, unable to make one gesture that would connect their lives and their love no matter how much she makes it clear that she just wants to see something from him to propel them forward.

Many a movie would get bogged down by Anthony’s inaction, becoming immobile itself and turn into an exceptionally frustrating affair. Not “Wild Mountain Thyme.” One reason for this is that the dialogue simply crackles and it doesn’t matter who is talking to whom. It could be Anthony and Tony or Anthony and Rosemary or Rosemary and her mother, Aoife (Dearbhla Molloy, who portrayed the character in Shanley’s play upon which the movie is based), or Aoife and Tony, it’s all not only funny; not only acerbic; but hyper-real. That is, the back-and-forths are the perfect sort of things to which we all might aspire—and which feel truly attainable—but which we can never actually achieve.

Without being too silly about it or oversimplifying the entire thing, let me reiterate that Shanley’s film captures a kind of magic. The countryside depicted is beautiful, with even the rain seeming to have a will of its own. The relationship at the movie’s center is perfect even if it hasn’t been consummated. The family dynamics are, like the dialogue, kind of over-the-top in a way that feels real.

There’s a recurring bit in the movie where Tony wants to buy back a strip of land he sold to Rosemary’s father years earlier, without which Adam doesn’t necessarily want the farm, as it requires opening and closing a set of gates in order to get to the road from Tony’s house. Tony had reasons for selling it and Rosemary has reasons for not wanting to sell it back and the whole thing just keeps cropping up in the movie as this terrible, and terribly funny, stumbling block. It is ridiculous and ridiculously perfect and again, over-the-top in a way that feels just dumb enough to exist in our world.

To its great credit, “Wild Mountain Thyme” manages to find the perfect pitch. Shanley has created a movie where there can be no doubt of the outcome for the audience, but where there is much for those involved in the proceedings (although Rosemary might not admit that). The Anthony-Rosemary story is crucially important to the two lead characters and their families, but we don’t get bogged down in it. That is, everything about the story is important to the characters in it, and consequently important to us, but we don’t find ourselves burdened by it. Instead, we can just watch and enjoy as these two people make the inexorable march towards their futures.

In short, “Wild Mountain Thyme” is a charming and witty movie. The love story at its center is great and then the whole thing is fleshed out with a set of characters one would kill to see. It doesn’t even matter that Walken’s accent seems to ebb and flow, it still somehow is right. It sounds trite and silly to call it all a rather magical experience, but it undeniably is just that.

photo credit: Bleecker Street

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