Some movies are intoxicated with love and language. “Wild Mountain Thyme” is falling down drunk with them. It’s a willful folly that will strike you as inspired or tedious or deranged – most likely all three – and it comes to us from the pen and febrile mind of John Patrick Shanley. Shanley knows from folly: He wrote “Moonstruck” (1987), which is certifiably nuts but loved by all, and he wrote and directed “Joe Versus the Volcano” (1990), which is certifiably nuts and loved by a hardy few, myself included. “Wild Mountain Thyme” continues the theme and dwindling appeal – and yet, one has to admire a man with the courage of such lunatic convictions.
At the Kendall and available on demand, the film is set in an Ireland so green your eyes may bleed – it was shot in the County Mayo countryside with an opening flyover along the Cliffs of Moher – and in general has a blarney quotient to make “The Quiet Man” look like a documentary. We are deposited at neighboring farms owned by the Muldoons and the Reillys, where a congenial multi-generational rivalry has dead-ended in Rosemary Muldoon (Emily Blunt) and Anthony Reilly (Jamie Dornan of the “Fifty Shades” movies), who clearly belong together but aren’t. Why they’re not is a mystery to all, especially Rosemary, who has been pining since youth, and it’s a tortured secret to Anthony, who is madly in love with her but can’t bring himself to act on it for a reason he doesn’t express until very late in the game. When he does, it’s a doozy.
Have I mentioned that Anthony’s father, Tony, is played by Christopher Walken, who’s about as Irish as a Keebler Elf? He’s having a pretty good time, so we do, too. Tony is fed up with his son’s dithering and announces a plan to sell the farm to a New York nephew, who arrives in the person of Jon Hamm, cocky as ever and with a wolfish eye toward Rosemary. The nephew immediately rents a Rolls-Royce to impress the locals, which is greeted about as well as this movie’s accents were greeted by the Irish press when the trailer came out in November. (“A hate crime” and “unforgivable diddly-eye-oh kind of stuff” were typical responses.)
“Wild Mountain Thyme” is based on Shanley’s 2014 play “Outside Mullingar,” and it fares as well as you’d expect for a talky stage production ported to the screen. But the director’s faith in true love running anything but smooth suspends the movie in a sort of dreamy gabbiness – even when you have no idea what the characters are going on about, the words sound lovely. And accent aside, Blunt nearly breaks a viewer’s heart as a woman maddened and saddened by her one true love’s refusal to acknowledge what they both feel. If she’s Hollywood’s version of a red-haired lassie, she’s a stirring one; somewhere up in Darryl Zanuck’s Technicolor heaven, Maureen O’Hara is grinning.
The film features a rambunctious turn by Lydia McGuinness as a pub-crawling rival for Anthony’s affections; her character doesn’t make any sense but she’s welcome company. At one point, Walken’s Tony ups and disappears from the film; whether he has died or stepped out for a pint isn’t clear. Eventually the lovers’ interminable dawdling builds to a pitch where Anthony has to unburden himself, and here is where “Wild Mountain Thyme” hurls itself off a cliff with such addled poetic whimsy that a critic must doff his hat in respect.
That said, “Wild Mountain Thyme” is not a good movie. Rather, it’s one that believes so deeply and joyously in its potted romantic Oirishness that the audience doesn’t have to. Shanley includes several stirring renditions of the title song, all of which may leave you longing for the classic version by the Byrds. When all is said and done, the movie itself is for the birds.
WILD MOUNTAIN THYME
Written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, based on his play. Starring Emily Blunt, Jamie Dornan, Christopher Walken, Jon Hamm. At the Kendall and on demand. 102 minutes. PG-13 (some thematic elements and suggestive comments)