Honestly, I think the best way to approach the movie Wild Mountain Thyme is to think of it like an absurdist play set in a version of Ireland rather than the Ireland. Or perhaps it’s in someone’s interpretation of their ancestor’s water-colored, time-worn memories of Ireland. (John Patrick Shanley, who wrote the movie and the play from which it was adapted, grew up in New York with an Irish immigrant family.) With that in mind, the accents—which range from authentic (I think) to leprechaun-kvetching-about-stolen-marshmallows to Christopher Walken—don’t sound quite so preposterous and distracting. And that way you can just kind of go with the fact that it takes place without any real mooring to an actual time or place, has some very convoluted dialogue and themes, and moves at a pace not unlike honey when it’s on the brink of crystallization. If you do all that, then it’s kind of compelling to watch? Or at least bizarrely fascinating. Like you’ve joined someone’s fever dream, which I swear I don’t mean in a negative way. At least, not entirely in a negative way, but definitely partially in a negative way.
The movie kicks off with exactly the kind of orchestral music and verdant green shots you’d expect a movie set in Ireland to kick off with. And then Christopher Walken informs us that he’s dead. Well, Christopher Walken isn’t dead, but his character Tony Reilly apparently is dead, which he says in the perfunctory way—voice rising slightly at the end—that only Christopher Walken could achieve. Then it goes back to long before his death when Tony Reilly, his wife Mary (Clare Barrett), and their son Anthony live together on a farm. On the next farm over live the Muldoon family, Chris (Don Wycherley), Aoife (Dearbhla Molloy), and their daughter Rosemary. When they’re still young children, Rosemary (Abigail Coburn) falls deeply in love with Anthony (Darragh O’Kane) but young Anthony yearns for Fiona (Anna Weekes). When Fiona laughs at Anthony’s odd ways, Rosemary fights her, so Anthony pushes Rosemary down, which leads to the Muldoons buying the portion of the Reilly’s land that abuts the road (which is where the spat occurred), which leads to there being two gates that must be opened and closed every time someone enters or leaves the Reilly’s farm, which I think is like a metaphor for the symbolic barriers between Rosemary and Anthony. Or maybe they’re just gates.
Please trust me that none of that is as clear in the movie. Except the part about the gates being opened and closed. That is extremely clear. Anyway, young Rosemary has an existential crisis about being “just a girl in a world full of girls.” To which her father responds that she’s a queen and plays her the score of Swan Lake, which will shape her outlook for the rest of her life. Meanwhile, young Anthony is having his own existential crisis, but internally, which leads to many people thinking he’s quite strange. Anthony and Rosemary grow up next door to each other, their families closely knit and bonded by the grief of Chris and Mary’s untimely deaths. As adults, Anthony (Jamie Dornan) and Rosemary (Emily Blunt) are still deeply in love with each other, but he is unable to make a move and she is frustrated by his lack of movement, but determined to wait for him. Why can’t she make the move? I don’t know. Everyone seems very attached to prescribed gender roles, which is too bad. Tony and Aoife are very focused on when their own deaths will happen—they both have their sights set on dying sooner rather than later—and what will happen to their land once they’re gone.
Tony Reilly doesn’t want to leave the farm to Anthony because he doesn’t believe that Anthony is really a farmer and he takes too much after his mother’s side and he won’t ever get married. Apparently, having a wife is a prerequisite for having a farm? It’s because then the wife is expected to do all the work the husband doesn’t want to, isn’t it? So Tony decides to give the farm to his nephew Adam (John Hamm) who lives in America and works as a banker (which I’m guessing actually means Hedge Fund Bro). Obviously, Anthony, who runs the farm, is crushed by this, but ultimately decides to accept his father’s wishes. Rosemary, on the other hand, who is blunt and headstrong, is pissed and gives Tony an earful of her leprechaun-lilted thoughts. When that doesn’t work, she tries to woo him by singing his late wife’s favorite song, which makes him get all teary-eyed, but doesn’t immediately sway him. Adam comes to visit and is, of course, smitten with Rosemary who is mostly confused by his focus on material things. He keeps asking questions about how many acres of land she owns (she doesn’t know). But she also likes his directness. (He invites her to visit him in New York three minutes after meeting her.)
There’s a lot of rain, many cows, some sheep, myriad misunderstandings (some humorous and some not), unrequited love, a couple of deaths, a trip to New York, and a lot of dialogue before we get to the (more or less) inevitable conclusion. Anthony practices his proposal to Rosemary on a donkey, which gets a rumor started that he is in love with donkeys. After losing his mother’s wedding ring, he buys a metal detector and walks the fields day and night trying to find it. But he doesn’t explain himself to anyone and so they all think he’s just strange beyond hope. The plot is entirely focused on the back and forth, push and pull between Anthony and Rosemary. So it feels kind of like a sweeping love story and kind of like two sheltered and emotionally stunted adults who can’t get their shit together. You see what I’m saying about the absurdist play bit?
But, the thing is that Rosemary and Anthony and the other characters aren’t so much characters as ideas of characters. They are like an accumulation of traits or emotions or feelings, which makes their extended arguments, disagreements, and conversations feel esoteric. But I don’t feel like I have any real grasp on my opinion of them as people beyond how they feel about each other, and maybe about their land. They seem mostly like adult-sized children. They both appear to be entirely naive about everything except their life on the farm. But at the same time I was rooting for these oddball kids to make it—if for no other reason than I invested a lot of time in watching them want to be together. It’s impossible to tell exactly what time period the events take place, which I’m guessing was purposeful. They are suspended in a bubble of their farms and their dreams and their love, I suppose, which could be endearing or annoying, depending on your perspective.
Phew. This review is starting to feel a bit absurd and unsound. The thing is, I feel like I’ve taken you on this several hundred word journey to say that I still don’t know exactly how I feel about this movie, but it’s mostly meh and okay, then, but also a smattering of interesting and a bit of well, that was funny. A decade ago I likely would have wondered if I just wasn’t smart enough to get it. Fuck that. Now I’m older and crankier and I just wonder why it’s so convoluted and so centered on Anthony and his equivocating and his inability to just say what he means. Just say it! Just tell Rosemary you love her because how the hell else is she going to know? She’s not a mind reader, you moping moppet. Stop protecting your fragile ego like it’s the last cookie. For the love of open and easy communication, you stubborn, self-centered twit!!
But I digress. To me, a lot of the dialogue felt like quips more than conversations, and like people were talking more at each other than to each other. But look, there is also a moment toward the end of the movie when Anthony finally admits his great secret—the thing that has held him back all these years—to Rosemary (and thank the frickin’ fairies or whatever for that!), and that secret is so unexpected, so innocent, so vulnerable, and so bizarre that I gained some…I don’t know, respect, maybe, for the whole caboodle. I also admit that you can never really argue with sweeping shots of beautiful countryside, even if they are accompanied by music that must be what shows up when you search “Ireland” + “Countryside” + “Background Music.” However, there are also lines like, “Men are beasts. They need that height to balance the truth and the goodness of women.” And, “Hope. It’s a force and women are the salvation of the world.” Both of which made me yelp in annoyance and injure my sinuses with snorts of derision.
So there you have it, friends. If you’re looking for a story that is really just about two people yearning for each other—with absolutely no barriers to them being together except their own ridiculous selves—while wearing rubber boots against a backdrop of rolling green fields, and if you don’t mind some extremely questionable accents, very poetical dialogue, and a pace that could make a tortoise impatient, then… Well, I definitely can’t bring myself to say you should watch this, but I also wouldn’t say you absolutely shouldn’t.