“They say if an Irishman dies while he’s telling a story, you can rest assured he’ll be back.” — A wise old-timer in “Wild Mountain Thyme.”
I’ll say this for “Wild Mountain Thyme,” it has maybe my favorite opening of any movie this year. In an Irish accent that veers dangerously close to Lucky Charms territory, Christopher Walken says in voice-over:
“Welcome. Welcome to Ireland. My name’s Tony Reilly, I’m DEAD.”
Pleased to make your acquaintance, Tony Reilly! I think. But you’re dead, so I’m not sure.
Written and directed by John Patrick Shanley (“Moonstruck”) and based on Shanley’s stage play “Outside Mullingar,” this is an odd duck of a movie, set in present day but firmly rooted in a near-mythical, old-timey Ireland where everyone speaks as if they know they’re characters in a fable and there’s nothing they can do about it, so why not just embrace the utter Irish cliché-ness of it all, and how’s about another pint and maybe a song?
Among the observations and asides heard along the way:
“Get the door before the night comes in.”
“She’s crazy. The cracked ones never get sick.”
“That man was as mad as the full moon.”
“Maybe the quiet around the thing is as important as the thing itself.”
“May she rest easy in heaven … when she passed it was like the birds lost their voices.”
It’s a wonder no one says, “May the road rise up to meet you …” or “Beauty won’t boil the kettle.”
As Tony Reilly explains in the prologue, “Wild Mountain Thyme” tells the story of two neighboring farms and the families that inhabit them: the Muldoon farm, where the quirky and headstrong Rosemary grew up, and the Reilly farm, where the even quirkier Anthony was raised. Rosemary grows up to be Emily Blunt and Anthony matured into Jamie Dornan, so it turns out they’re two REALLY GOOD-LOOKING misfits who clearly are in love, but Anthony can’t bring himself to declare his feelings and Rosemary will be darned if she’ll do the heavy romantic lifting for him. She’ll just smoke her pipe and wear white dresses and work the farm and … yearn. There’s definitely yearning.
That’s it. That’s the movie. To be sure, there’s a lot of dying and a few songs and a beer or two to be shared along the way, not to mention some manufactured obstacles keeping Rosemary and Tony apart for a good long while, and a weird detour about “Swan Lake,” but that’s basically the movie — keeping those two apart by whatever means necessary until, well, what do YOU think eventually happens?
As Walken’s widowed Tony approaches his 75th birthday, he’s sure his own time is just around the corner and he wants to ensure the farm is left in good hands. Tony doesn’t trust the head-in-the-clouds Anthony to take the reins, and it just so happens Anthony’s wealthy, American-born cousin Adam is interested in becoming a gentleman farmer, so Tony invites Cousin Adam to Ireland to have a look-see.
Enter Jon Hamm as the handsome and quite awful Adam, who arrives at the Reilly farm in a rented Rolls-Royce, gifts Anthony with an expensive designer white raincoat and immediately begins hitting on Rosemary, who is admittedly intrigued by this bounder who speaks his mind, unlike the ever-dawdling Anthony. (When Rosemary asks Adam why he rented such an ostentatious vehicle, Adam replies: “For show!” Ugh. Adam is the worst.)
For all its self-consciously folksy comedy, “Wild Mountain Thyme” is actually most effective in the handful of straight dramatic scenes, e.g., when Tony finally stops criticizing his son and tenderly expresses his love for the lad, and when Rosemary takes the stage at a local pub and sings a beautiful version of the Scottish/Irish folk standard “Wild Mountain Thyme” (aka “Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go?”) dedicated to Tony’s late wife. Walken’s best acting in this movie comes when Tony doesn’t say a word as he reacts to Rosemary’s gorgeous rendition of the timeless classic.
“Wild Mountain Thyme” comes close to winning our hearts based on the performances and the lush County Mayo scenery and the sheer romanticism of it all, but writer-director Shanley keeps us at arm’s distance in the climactic sequences, when we should be swept up in the story of Rosemary and Anthony but we’re left exasperated at the forced eccentricity of it all. This movie falls a few ounces short of a full pint.