WILD MOUTNAIN THYME (2020) follows headstrong farmer Rosemary (Emily Blunt) has her heart set on winning her neighbor Anthony’s (Jamie Dornan) love but Anthony remains oblivious to his beautiful admirer until he learns of his father’s (Christopher Walken) plans to sell the family farm. Written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, Academy-Award winner for MOONSTRUCK (1988) and nominee for DOUBT (2009).
After releasing what was arguably one of the worst trailers to grace 2020, which is saying something for a year that released a thriller based on the current pandemic (SONGBIRD ), so it’s fair to say expectations were at a severe low for this one. This film is the equivalent of when you meet someone and can’t quite get a read on them, it’s really unclear what they were aiming for. It opens on such a generic view of the countryside topped with Walken’s narration, oozing with cheese and the first of several unconvincing accents, which quickly kicks off that unsure footing for the baffling 102-minutes that follow.
Stripping it back entirely to just look at a few key elements, you can see the building blocks for something funny and silly, throwing caution to the wind and going for it with a very quirky sense of humor and parodical style but they’re unsuccessful because there’s no confidence or consistency. The most surprising thing about it is that there are a few genuine moments of charm hidden among the fray, it makes itself so easy to criticize and requires a lot of benefit of the doubt but there is something there. Unfortunately, these moments are few and far between and the writing is so strangely mundane and has such a penchant for stating the obvious that it’s too fleeting of a feeling to hold onto. One of the issues that feels most prominent is the setting because while the physical location is a solid choice (when it’s in the right hands), this story belongs in a period at least pre-1950, it’s almost like the weird, loner cousin of FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD (2015). It seems as though the choice to use a modern setting came out of laziness, it’s so much more suited to a time before technology took over, that it’s simply another element that makes the viewing experience confusing.
Another surprising factor given the strange, clunky, overt nature of Shanley’s writing is that his direction is pretty much standard, it’s not really of a lesser quality than you’d expect to see in any romcom but sadly it’s not backed up by the cinematography. The choices of shots are fine for the most part but the actual visual quality feels extremely low, a made for TV movie at best, not a film to be on the big screen. The structure of the story also lends itself to something more suited to a mini-series, especially in its final moments which require a lot more investment in the story and its characters that it has even slightly reached. Its style also leans so heavily on the melodramatic that it takes away from the drama; given there’s a few singing scenes, it may have even worked better as a musical to take a firmer, more confident grasp on its silly nature.
Granted no-one will come out of this unscathed because it’s such an odd project for recognizable names to be involved in but another surprise is that they do still create likable characters, even if they’re certainly wild cards. Emily Blunt is relentlessly likable, she provides a fierce, powerful nature to Rosemary that mixed with her honest and caring nature, is actually an interesting character, an impressive feat in this context. Jamie Dornan similarly brings a charm to Anthony’s simple but sturdy personality, he has some rather strange layers and together the two of them do attempt to bring out the comedy but the writing just isn’t good enough for the humor to land most of the time. Sadly, though they do have a chemistry, it isn’t quite up to the level that’s needed to pull off the height of the story’s drama.
WILD MOUTAIN THYME is a period drama lost and confused in the 21st century, Blunt and Dornan do their best to make the most of this story but Shanley’s style is so lacking in confidence that the result is an uncertain mess. You can see sparks of what he was trying to do but what you get is somewhere between a less funny romcom version of Father Ted and a feature long Saturday Night Live sketch. Put simply, there’s a very specific set of people who may still enjoy this but it’s unquestionably an odd duck.