What’s the point of reviewing? Isn’t it enough to know that a film is 71 percent good? Maybe you look beyond numbers to inform your judgement about what to watch, or to confirm or deny what you felt on first viewing. I’m a fan of John Patrick Shanley, a playwright who scored big with his screenplay for Moonstruck back in the 80’s, and was keen to see his latest. Checking names, spellings and details is the job of the reviewer, but reading the vitriolic reaction to Wild Mountain Thyme elsewhere made me question my own sanity; did I see the same film as everyone else?
Shanley has risked being pigeonholed for whimsy, although if you’ve seen plays like The Big Funk or Doubt, filmed with Meryl Streep, you’ll know he’s got more in his locker. An Irish American, Shanley is wont to sentimentalise his homeland, and so Wild Mountain Thyme, which takes its name from a famous lament, is the tale of two lovers who can’t quite get together. Shanley wrote this as a play, called Outside Mulligar, some time ago, and has managed to attract a grade-A cast; Emily Blunt plays Rosemary, the spiky, acerbic girl who has the eye of the lumpen Anthony (Jamie Dornan). Anthony’s father Tony, played by Christopher Walken, indicates that he might pass the family farm to his other son, NYC boy Adam (Jon Hamm), forcing Anthony to plan some tentative overtures to his childhood sweetheart. Will the course of true love run true?
Wild Mountain Thyme sees Shanley return to the romantic, comic feel of Moonstruck, where lovers are bound by their difficulties in articulating their feelings, and has some of the wacky feel of his script for fondly remembered Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan vehicle Joe vs the Volcano. If the country-loving characters spoke authentically, there’d need subtitles, so it’s as well that the cast are so familiar and their elocution so clear. If you want to spend 100 minutes carping about accents, you’re missing the point; any film in which a central character confesses to his attraction to the state of being a honey bee is aiming for something other than kitchen-sink naturalism. Shanley’s pulled this off before, and he does so again; Blunt and Dornan revel in their rich, amusingly florid dialogue, and Walken is a marvel as he captures to spirit of a man on his way out, but with a few things to fix before he goes.
Wild Mountain Thyme is not for critics, awards juries or sensation seekers; this is an entertaining, deliberately funny play, thoughtfully opened out and played with spirit. For those who can dig the pawky good humour, the rough-edged characters and the surreal humour of the Irish, then Wild Mountain Thyme should come drifting down from the mountains like sweet manna from heaven or old-school Hollywood moonshine.