Review by Sean Boelman
There are films that are very obviously passion projects for those involved, but sometimes one is left to wonder why said project was worthy of passion in the first place. Wild Mountain Thyme, written and directed by John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck) from his own play, is one such case, a lurid but not too lucid romantic comedy that will leave viewers scratching their heads.
The movie follows a pair of star-crossed lovers whose love for each other is put to the test when their families get wrapped up in a land dispute. Romeo and Juliet set against the background of Irish farming sounds pleasant enough, but Shanley buries this simple and relatively charming premise beneath layer upon layer of pretension.
Perhaps the single most frustrating thing about the film is that it is needlessly confusing. Struggling to find a balance between sentimental romance, quirky comedy, and empty poeticism, the movie is really just a bunch of dialogue that doesn’t make much sense building up to an ending that is bafflingly ridiculous.
Also frustrating is the film’s apparent obsession with preserving the patriarchal ways of the culture it depicts. The whole plot revolves around a fight for the love of the female lead because whoever wins her love earns the right to inherit the farmland. The woman’s happiness is fundamentally tied to her romance, which is both generic and reductive.
And although Shanley desperately tries to infuse the movie with meaning, the script feels overly self-righteous. Symbolic use of Swan Lake and bumblebees can only go so far when the character development is so thin. These end up being little more than failed attempts at depth as a last-ditch effort to make this try to appeal to upscale audiences.
It’s really a shame that the script is so lackluster, because the prospect of working with Shanley drew a talented ensemble. Emily Blunt and Jamie Dornan have some really strong chemistry together, but their dialogue simply isn’t believable. Jon Hamm is charming as always, but isn’t given much to do. Christopher Walken feels miscast in his role.
There are also some really gorgeous visuals in the film. Shanley shot the movie in the Irish countryside and he and cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt took advantage of the gorgeous scenery to elevate this beyond the usual stage-to-screen adaptation. Shanley also uses Irish folk music in some interesting ways, even if it isn’t as substantial as one would hope.
Wild Mountain Thyme would have been passable had it not been trying so hard to be something more than it is. Ultimately, it can’t decide whether it wants to be for the common man or the art house crowd, and as a result, it’s often laughably weird.
Wild Mountain Thyme hits theaters and VOD on December 10.