Saturday, January 9, 2021

Wild Mountain Thyme: Movie Review

Wildy insane and tedious but vividly captured.

John Patrick Shanley is an interesting writer and an accomplished filmmaker who has been making movies for over thirty years including the Oscar-winning Moonstruck and Doubt. And now here we are with Wild Mountain Thyme with all the pedigree, including Christopher Walken and Emily Blunt, to be a major awards player, but it most definitely will not be. Not that Shanley cares.   2020

Directed by: John Patrick Shanley

Screenplay by: John Patrick Shanley
Based on the play Outside Mullingar

Starring: Emily Blunt, Jamie Dornan

When it was first announced - an Irish set romantic comedy with decades long family drama at the center starring Emily Blunt and Jamie Dornan as the star-crossed lovers written by Shanley, I was sure that I would love it and nobody could convince me otherwise. Not all the critics who said the third act was insane, and not all the critics who argued back that it wasn’t insane but stupid. And I’m sorry to report that I spent most of the movie going “what?” and the much-maligned third-act twist that is both insane and stupid was met with the same “what?”.

I love the cinematography and not just because it’s set in Ireland and by default has gorgeous scenery. For multiple reasons, which I will try to touch on most of them, this is remarkably well photographed. At the beginning, Rosemary (Emily Blunt) is riding her black horse across the rolling farmland and there was a sharpness to it which made it feel like a fairy tale, which matches the tone they were going for.

The problem is the story is at first slow and then weird and slow and then just flat-out nonsense. Rosemary has family but soon she is the only one left and she owns a piece of land separating the road from her neighbour’s farm. Anthony (Jamie Dornan) is the neighbouring farmer who Rosemary has been in love with since they were children. Seems like a sane enough story, sure, and then Anthony and the audience learn that his father isn’t really his father (the first “what?” since that is not further explained or explored).

Rosemary and Anthony, but primarily Anthony, just make less and less sense as the movie drags on. Ignoring the insanity at the end, I am unable to name a single characteristic of Anthony. Finally, Jon Hamm arrives. He’s American but somehow related. On the surface, he’s an evil capitalist American. He wants Rosemary’s land. He also decides he’s in love with Rosemary, probably because she’s beautiful because he just met her and knows very little about her. Rosemary meanwhile is still pining for Anthony.

Images courtesy of Elevation Pictures.

Suddenly Rosemary returns to a love from her childhood. The ballet. Often wearing a long white skirt, she gracefully dances in front of her white stone house with red shutter windows. The choice of colours and how the dances are captured are a primary vehicle for the advancement of her character and the expression of her emotion as she gets exasperated by Anthony’s distance and is now allured by Adam and American possibilities – seeing a ballet.

The score borrows heavily from Swan Lake and the cinematography mirrors the highs and lows of that score. The swirling of a murder of crows in tune with the music and a lonely elm tree standing on a hill swaying in the wind as the dramatic music reaches its crescendo. And then back to that white stone house with red shutter windows; I wish I could decipher more of what that house represents because it is so strikingly captured.

This movie is based on John Patrick Shanley’s play Outside Mullingar. Unlike the majority of films adapted from a play, you can’t tell that Wild Mountain Thyme was once confined to a stage. Everything good about this movie is derived from the visual moving elements of filmmaking. I am unfamiliar with the play, but it obviously must present its themes very differently – perhaps it even makes sense?

I have a theory, though. I believe Shanley heard an Irish folk tale, passed down over the years, which involved a star-crossed lovers type couple caught up in a family land dispute. My guess is a sad tale, two people who were in love who could not be together. And much like a game of telephone, the original (probably sane story) got distorted and picked up nonsense along the way. I am curious if it ever made sense to John Patrick Shanley. I would love to get inside his head and see how he dreamed this up.