Thursday, December 10, 2020

A whimsical (heaven help us) romcom


Writer/director John Patrick Shanley's new movie -- Wild Mountain Thyme -- takes place in Ireland where 
Emily Blunt and Jamie Dornan star as a couple of farmers who've known each other all their lives. 
     Their families own adjacent farms, but Blunt's mother (Dearbhla Molloy) refuses to sell a strip of land to Dornan's father Tony (Christopher Walken). 
  Although this squabble over land creates mild tension, the bulk of the movie involves the halting relationship between Blunt's Rosemary and Dornan's Anthony. 
    The savvy Rosemary understands that they're supposed to be together. Preternatural shyness keeps Anthony from popping the question. 
    Shanley sets us up for a flavorful romcom, but whimsy, romance, and occasional splashes of rue aren't enough to give this adaptation of a Shanley stage play (Outside Mullingar) new life. 
   Trailers for Wild Mountain Thyme riled the Irish press. The movie was mocked for cliched Irish accents that seemed tailored for characters who felt as if they'd been drawn from fantasy. 
    Fair enough and casting Walken as an Irish father with a highly variable accent doesn't help.
    American audiences, who may not be quite so unhinged by the accents, will find an otherwise slender movie in which Blunt gives the stand-out performance.
     Frank and cynical, Rosemary knows what she wants. She doesn't need to be romanced. She's eager to arrive at the destination. Reticent but not lacking in self-insight, Dornan's Anthony doesn't make for the most interesting counterpoint to Rosemary's determination.
     The arrival of an American cousin (a bland Jon Hamm) threatens the already tenuous relationship between Rosemary and Anthony.     
    Scenes that are intended to be funny (Anthony practicing his proposal speech by kneeling before a donkey) don't quite work  and Shanley's effort to preserve the play's darker currents don't really pay off. Rain soaks several scenes and an early encounter involving Walken and Molloy is steeped in talk of death.
     Shanley gives the characters a wary sense of skepticism, but  for all its trying, Wild Mountain Thyme doesn't stir the heart. 
     Shanley, who wrote and directed Doubt (2008), also wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for Moonstruck (1987), a charmer that was directed by Norman Jewison. Those were two strong movies, but this time, attempts at quirky authenticity feel strained.
     Weird, no? In Wild Mountain Thyme, what must have been intended as idiosyncratic and flavorful too often feels stereotypical.

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