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Review: A heavy dose of blarney fuels the Irish-set romantic comedy ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’

Emily Blunt and Jamie Dornan in the movie "Wild Mountain Thyme."
(Kerry Brown/Bleecker Street)

Writer-director John Patrick Shanley’s old-fashioned, at times transporting, romantic comedy “Wild Mountain Thyme” has a lot going for it, which makes it a shame that it’s not a wholly stronger film. That said, as a stress-free chance to take in the lush, gorgeously green Irish countryside, you could do worse.

Based on Shanley’s Tony-nominated 2014 play, “Outside Mullingar,” the movie works hard to feel lyrical and enchanting, yet it frequently proves too fanciful for its own good. As a result, we often remain on the outside looking in on the lead characters’ blarney-infused fears, foibles and quandaries.

There’s a sweet setup: Forthright Rosemary Muldoon (Emily Blunt) and neurotic (some think “touched”) Anthony Reilly (Jamie Dornan) grew up on neighboring family farms in the Irish Midlands (the film was shot in western Ireland’s County Mayo) and were destined to fall in love from age 10. Going on almost 30 years later, however, they remain stubbornly, dysfunctionally single, working their land and waiting in vain for the other to make the first move.

But their static, solitary existences get upended when Anthony’s aging dad, Tony (Christopher Walken), decides to sell their farm to his well-heeled American nephew, Adam (Jon Hamm), after unilaterally deciding that his oddball bachelor son won’t be up to running things when he’s gone. It’s a seemingly rash decision that gets pushback from both Rosemary and Tony’s wise old friend and neighbor — and Rosemary’s ma — Aoife (Dearbhla Molloy).

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A rivalry of sorts emerges when Adam visits the Emerald Isle and takes a liking to both the Reilly farm and the fetching Rosemary. This brings out whatever fight the fatally self-doubting Anthony has in him, but retreat is never far behind.

Several pivotal and somewhat forced events conspire to push Rosemary and Anthony closer together, and despite the bumps along the way — and Adam’s looming presence — there’s little doubt where these two lonely souls are headed.

Shanley, who was inspired by his own Irish roots to write the play and steer it to the screen, fills his flourishy, Éire-style dialogue with grand pronouncements (“A man with feelings should be put down,” “Women are the salvation of the world.”) and outsize allusions (“I’m shattered with black clouds of depression.”), though occasionally nails the human condition with his “Moonstruck”-like aplomb (“The kinds of dreams kids have make adults miserable.”).

People also do many strange, showy things here that defy logic or payoff (and sometimes both) and make the film feel too quirky by half. Does Adam buy Anthony that silly white raincoat just to annoy him? Would Adam actually rent a Rolls-Royce upon landing in Ireland? Would Rosemary really fly to New York just for one night — and somehow stay awake for an evening performance of “Swan Lake”? Does Anthony honestly believe he’s a honeybee? (OK, he does.) It’s that kind of movie.

Still, there are a number of affecting moments en route, including two warmly performed renditions of the well-loved Celtic folk song — and the film’s namesake — “Wild Mountain Thyme,” a wonderful scene of eleventh-hour father-son resolution, and a lovely ending that makes you wish the movie had calmed down way sooner.

Much was made of Blunt, Dornan and Walken’s wobbly Irish accents when the film’s trailer first dropped, and though there’s some validity to that (Dornan may have the least excuse: he’s from Northern Ireland), the actors are otherwise the high point here. Blunt deftly modulates the “fiery Irish lass” thing with a stirring underpinning of sadness and regret; Dornan surprises with his loopy, awkward vulnerability (he’s light years away from his “50 Shades’” Christian Grey); Walken is terrific; and the ever-handsome Hamm brings his usual sidelong charm to a fairly mechanical part. The Dublin-born Molloy is also memorable and undeniably authentic in her more fleeting role.

‘Wild Mountain Thyme’

Rated: PG-13, for some thematic issues and suggestive comments

Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes

Playing: Starts Dec. 11 in limited release where theaters are open; also on VOD


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