Wild Mountain Thyme
John Patrick Shanely returns to the director's chair after a 12 year absence
The jump from stage to screen is not always an easy one. Shakespeare is perhaps the most famous example, whose grand narratives have benefitted from the silver screen. However, many other plays, be they musicals or straightforward dramas, have a bigger challenge. The most important responsibility these adaptations bear is to take viewers out of the cramped style and structure that was created for the practicality of a theater and use the wide expanse of the screen. John Patrick Shanley was able to do so cleverly, directing his own Tony-award-winning play adaptation Doubt (2008); he would use tracking shots and a bustling edit to give the sense of rising tension and claustrophobia. Patrick Shanley has not directed a film since then, choosing to focus on theater. But the New Yorker is back, with an adaptation of his 2014 play “Outside Mullingar,” titled Wild Mountain Thyme (2020) for the big screen.
Wild Mountain Thyme takes place in rural Ireland, where two neighboring farms have two attractive children, Rosemary (Emily Blunt) and Anthony (Jamie Dornan). They grow up together but seem averse towards making romantic advances at one another. Fearing that his son and his farmland will be lost due to a lack of a lineage, Anthony’s father (Christopher Walken) threatens to put an American relative, Adam (Jon Hamm) in his will instead, cornering the bumbling Anthony and pitting him against Adam; forcing him to confront his feelings for Rosemary.
“Outside Mullingar” was well received on Broadway, and Patrick Shanley has proven to be an incredibly talented writer, winning not only the Tony for “Doubt,” but also a Pulitzer and an Oscar for Moonstruck’s (1987) screenplay. Thus when he announced he would be adapting his own play and directing for the first time in 12 years, a certain expectation grew. However, no one could have imagined the absolute wreck that Wild Mountain Thyme turned out to be.
Wild Mountain Thyme is completely confused in every way, from its tone, to its style, to the performances, and even its genre. It seems like the plot is gearing towards a pleasant romantic comedy, perhaps inspired by the success of the modern Irish stories of Sally Rooney (though those have a distinct urban feel). However, the film carries very serious themes about death and suicidal depression that clash horribly with its rom-com clichés. This basic confusion about what the film is, dooms it from the start, as the music and editing seem to indicate a lighthearted affair, while the performances and direction seem to be taking everything way too seriously.
Then there’s the adaptation itself, which because of the script and editing proves to be another horrible jumble. All of the dialogue seems to come from a first draft version of the screenplay, as if Patrick Shanley thought not much effort needed to go into revising his own material. This makes for some confusing and unfinished (or simply terrible) jokes and moments, which the actors themselves are uncomfortable and visibly confused when delivering. The editing, meanwhile, suffers thanks to either cut production days or a horrendous narrative structure. This is evident when important characters suddenly disappear and we get a throwaway line about them having died. There is also a clear breaking of simple film rules of consistency as well, such as a conversation between Adam and Anthony on the phone, which like a similar scene in any film cuts back and forth between both characters; halfway through, however, we only stick with Anthony and stop hearing Adam’s side of the conversation. Did they run out of shooting days for that scene? This technique is sometimes done when the filmmaker wishes to hide a big reveal that will come forth in the finale, but in Wild Mountain Thyme it ends up being crucial information that is only understood when you piece together hints from later on in the narrative. Then there are other scenes that drag on forever, as if Patrick Shanely had the impression he was delivering a fascinating conversation and exchange of wit, when it really feels like a freshman literature major writing with a hangover.
Then there are the performances. Patrick Shanley has an embarrassment of riches with this cast, and yet seemed to be unable to take advantage of them. The Irish press has already been ridiculing this film due to the extremely poor Irish accents donned by the largely non-Irish cast (only Dornan is Irish from the main players). This embarrassing accent is most apparent in Walken, who seems to give up on his impersonation halfway through his sentences. While Blunt and Dornan have shown themselves to be quite impressive actors throughout their filmography, they seem horribly miscast here. One big reason for this error is their complete lack of chemistry. This is not helped by the fact that Patrick Shanley doesn’t build up their relationship (let alone romance). I could only count two scenes of the two protagonists talking to each other before their big showdown at the end. This, along with the misguided directions that makes Blunt and Dornan play their roles overdramatically makes for incredibly poor and awkward scenes to witness.
Far from being a love letter to rural Ireland, Patrick Shanely even digs into certain stereotypes and positions that seem to be decades out of date. Not even a cheesy romance can be salvaged here due to a lack of actor chemistry and absence of any build-up between them. The performances, script, and direction are in complete disarray. The result is that Wild Mountain Thyme is an absolute car crash of a film, confused in every aspect.