Wild Mountain Thyme (PG, 102 minutes)
How big a fan are you of Irish-tinged whimsy? That's the big question to ask yourself before seeing Wild Mountain Thyme. The film opens with the voiceover, "Welcome to Ireland. My name's Tony Reilly. I'm dead!" spoken by Christopher Walken with an attempt at an Irish brogue. If you find this offputting, that's a bad sign and you can probably stop reading now and forget about seeing the film. If it amuses or intrigues you, keep reading.
What we have here is a sort of light romantic drama. In County Mayo, widower Tony Reilly (Walken) is thinking he might bequeath the family farm not to his son Anthony (Jamie Dornan, who is from Belfast - a different part of Ireland, but Ireland nonethless), who lives with him, but to his Irish-American nephew Adam (John Hamm), a New York money man.
The theatrical origins of the film are evident, despite numerous sweeping shots of the beautiful green countryside and pan flute music that seem like they're trying too hard to sell the rural Irishness of the film
This doesn't seem especially plausible and writer-director John Patrick Shanley gives no very good reason for it. Anthony is shy and a little clumsy and gently eccentric, but none of that really explains why he's a bad choice to run the place he's lived and worked on all his life. He might not be settled down with a family, but that's hardly a justification.
The romantic aspect comes with the relationship between Anthony and Rosemary Muldoon (a slightly deglamorised Emily Blunt), who lives on the neighbouring farm. They grew up together and she's long harboured feelings for him and he might reciprocate. But in true rom-com fashion, neither has the simple conversation that would clarify this and set them on a life together (and make the film a good deal shorter).
Their exchanges tend to be brief and awkward and they see each other largely from a distance - Rosemary watches Anthony fall from his boat into water or roaming the fields with a metal detector (though the latter does have a real motivation that's eventually revealed). Their big breakthrough, when it comes, includes an explanation by Anthony of his diffidence that appears to be sincere but comes off as simply odd.
Rosemary's thwarted childhood love of ballet and the score of Swan Lake in particular, which is apparently reason enough for her to fly suddenly to New York for a single day to go to the Tchaikovsky ballet with Adam when the situation regarding Anthony appears hopeless. But the brash American, while not unlikeable, serves the function of Bill Pullman's character in Sleepless in Seattle or Ralph Bellamy in some Cary Grant movies - a plot device rather than a serious romantic rival.
The actors have come in for quite a bit of criticism over their accents but not having a great ear for such things I wasn't overly troubled. Nor are the performances much of a problem, although a more naturalistic (and genuinely Irish) actor than Walken might have sold the contrived conflict between father and son a bit more convincingly.
Shanley adapted his play Outside Mullingar for this film.He an Irish-American who grew up in the Bronx and obviously knows something about the culture. But Wild Mountain Thyme, despite some pleasures in the dialogue and acting, s not nearly as good as his best known earlier work.
He wrote and directed the 2008 film version of his play Doubt, a fine dramatic study in ambiguity. Earlier, Shanley won an Oscar for the screenplay of Moonstruck (1987), another romantic comedy set in an Italian-American milieu that has some similarities to the new film: a love triangle, a dash of high culture the heroine enjoys (opera instead of ballet). Moonstruck was more charming and successful than Wild Mountain Thyme. Veteran Norman Jewison (In the Heat of the Night) directed that film and having a different, more cinematically inclined eye behind the camera might have made a positive difference.
The theatrical origins of the film are evident, despite numerous sweeping shots of the beautiful green countryside and pan flute music that seem like they're trying too hard to sell the rural Irishness of the film.
While plenty of stage plays have been successfully adapted into films with great success, this isn't one of them.
However, whimsy is one of those you-like-it-or-you-don't tough sells: you might have a better time than I did.