Emily Blunt and Christopher Walken butcher the Irish accent in a bizarre and pointless but somewhat fascinating filmic misfire
John Patrick Shanley's Wild Mountain Thyme arrives with the air of a fake film within-a film, though it is supposedly something to be taken at face value. It couldn’t have come from a filmmaker with a more chaotic filmography – Oscar-winning director of Moonstruck and Doubt, but also writer of Joe Versus the Volcano, Congo, and We're Back! A Dinosaur Story. This one has more in common with those latter misfires, a film that wears its unashamed Irishness not merely on its sleeve, but on its green-painted forehead, upon which there might as well sit one of those novelty St. Patrick's Day hats.
It announces itself through Christopher Walken, cast here for reasons that no explanation will ever fully justify, and his garbled attempt at an Irish accent. “I’m dead,” his Tony Reilly tells us right away via the bouncy, advertisement-like voiceover, setting the tone for the strangest inheritance comedy since Mr. Popper's Penguins. Adapted from Shanley's own award-winning play, one is certain to wonder whether everything award-worthy about the material has been purposely removed.
Will Tony leave the farm to his dopey but not exactly unlikeable son, Anthony, played by actual Irishman Jamie Dornan? It seems inevitable, yet the movie spends an hour debating it anyway. Meanwhile, every healthy-looking adult over the age of 70 is for some reason doomed to die, as though succumbing to a deadly, unmentioned virus. Of more pressing concern is Anthony's beautiful, no-nonsense neighbour, Rosemary, a pipe smoking loner inhabited for some reason by Emily Blunt (seemingly far too good for this, until she opens her mouth) who has loved him since childhood. It’s not so much will-they-won’t-they as “what-the-hell-they”?
Problem is, the movie does a poor job of explaining why these two aren’t together when they clearly long to be and there are absolutely zero obstacles in their way. In fact, it’s never clear why anything is happening in Wild Mountain Thyme, as though every second scene was cut. When some semblance of explanation about the romance finally does come via a late stage “twist,” it’s the sort to make M. Night Shyamalan’s lesser finales look like strokes of genius. That is to assume it even counts as a twist, since it bears no relation to the story we've been told, or reality itself, as unfounded as the 1950s-like world that smothers this ostensibly modern day piece.
Thing is, it’s all actually rather watchable. No performance could be deemed good, but the film emanates a strange liveliness that means it’s never quite boring, never quite uninteresting – there are too many questionable decisions on display for that. Like Jon Hamm’s smarmy American cousin, who arrives only to offer further proof that nobody knows what to do with this former Mad Man. He’s meant to be a complication but the film can’t quite commit. It's just one of countless perplexing decisions made across 102 very baffling minutes. Yet watched with friends, washed down with a few pints of Guinness, you might very well add another star to the rating. Assuming you’re not Irish.
Wild Mountain Thyme is now streaming on various digital platforms.Where to watch