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Wild Mountain Thyme

Wild Mountain Thyme

You've got something on yer face. Definitely Something Face.

dir: John Patrick Shanley


Confession time: When I hear about something being almost supernaturally awful, I feel obligated to search it out and watch it. No-one who saw Cats last year could have expected or wanted anything less than a trainwreck when they voluntarily downloaded or streamed it after all those appalling reviews. Anyone who heard about the reviews for this film had to be expecting something so bad it makes the Potato Famine look like a day at Luna Park in comparison.

What I got was a pleasant surprise, in that Wild Mountain Thyme is not the worst film in Irish history, probably. It is a strange and slightly surreal experience, though, and I am sometimes a fan of surreal and strange experiences.

For such a quintessentially Irish story, they had to get that famous Irish actor of longstanding prowess and acclaim, being Christopher Walken. Christopher Walken? Yes, Christopher Fucking Walken, playing an old Irish farmer. Walken I think for the last decade has appeared in any movie anyone has asked him to appear in. I don’t think he even wants money to turn up, either. He just wants to get out of the house, stay active. It’s good, for chaps his age, to keep moving.

The problem with setting a story in Ireland with Irish characters is that people are expected to speak with Irish accents. I mean, it would be unusual to set the story in County Mayo and not have people speaking at least vaguely with an accent people associate with The Troubles and leprechauns and such. I think of the actors here there’s one who’s Irish, through and through. The other was born in Ireland, but didn’t grow up there, so it’s an Acting Exercise for them too.

Elsewhere, really, they could have had me playing some of these roles, because my Irish accent, though terrible, would have been indistinguishable from the rest.

I could have played the Emily Blunt role. I’m sure people who turned up expecting Emily Blunt and seeing me wouldn’t have been disappointed, especially since if I had delivered her dialogue, I would have tried to maintain the accent for an entire sentence, rather than just applying it loudly to one word in a sentence, and then hoping that it would cover the rest of them.

It's not like I’m the Accent Police or a gatekeeper of Irishness or anything. The strangest thing about the flick is there’s nothing about it that essentially necessitated that it be set in Ireland. If you’d set it somewhere else where no-one cared about the accents, it wouldn’t change the very odd story one bit.

When I say it’s odd, it’s not that complicated. There are two farms. A girl grows up on one farm, a boy grows up on the other. The girl loves the boy, the boy is…confused about something, the boy’s father gets irritated with the boy, eventually a man, for not getting married and for not loving farming.

You could set such a flick in Nimbin, in Yakutsk or Kerala, and there would be no need for fiddle-de-dee potatoes or to be sure to be sures. The person who wrote the play this was based on, and the screenplay, and who directed this, is of Irish derivation, but was born and grew up in America.

I like to think that he spent some time at a franchise Irish pub, from which he got most of his ideas on what Irish lives are like down on the farm.

The thing is, I honestly didn’t mind the flick for most of its length. The accents might have been vaguely bonkers but I don’t honestly feel like this is any worse a depiction of life in any one place than any other flick I’ve ever seen. The real issue comes down to how odd the main characters are. If it’s a romance we’re meant to care as to whether they get together and stay together in the end.

I’m not sure I cared that much, but I was intrigued by these characters, and some of the strange stuff that happens around them.

It doesn’t start with a funeral, but with a chap talking about how he is dead. But, he claims in voiceover, the Irish say that if you die while telling a story, you become immortal or something, which, I checked, isn’t actually true.

The intro sets a few things up: Anthony is an odd child who laments that God made him the way he is. Rosemary loves him and will wait her entire life for him to come to her. And her dad tells her she is the White Swan from Swan Lake, which she comes to believe and fixate on as a guiding principle her whole life through.

She will wait and wait and wait. Anthony will conduct himself mostly as a harmless oddbod, but considering Jamie Dornan, if he’s famous for anything, and he probably is famous, it’s for playing a serial killer in the TV series The Fall, and for playing a billionaire sadist / sociopath in those 50 Shades movies, he’s a bit of a worry.

Everyone down to the animals keeps waiting for Anthony to get together with Rosemary, but there’s no real obstacle, there’s no impediment or warring families, or family tragedy / curse or local strife or financial trouble or political issue or anything stopping them from getting together, other than that Anthony seems to want to avoid it with almost every fibre of his being.

There is a reason. Don’t look it up, I beg of you. I would implore anyone who likes watching vague trainwreck movies to not spoil themselves, and to watch this without warning or favour as to why Anthony is reluctant to get together with Rosemary.

There is also the boorish, sexist way I could marvel at a story where a cis het chap who looks like Jamie Dornan, who is very easy on the eyes, doesn’t want to have sex with Emily Blunt, which renders this flick something akin to science fiction. In all fairness there probably are people that don’t think Emily Blunt is attractive. Somewhere. They probably have standards the rest of us can’t imagine or comprehend. And that’s okay too.

But in this bit of Ireland, there don’t appear to be any other people, whether they be slightly more or slightly less attractive than this central pairing. So bereft of other bachelors is this blighted Emerald Isle that the only other alternative to Anthony has to be imported all the way from the States in the form of Jon Hamm (Jon Hamm).

Now, I’m aware that in the context of the story he’s Christopher Walken’s nephew from the States, but considering how little work is involved in differentiating the character he plays from any other character Jon Hamm has ever played, it’s just Jon Hamm.

At first Christopher Walken doesn’t want to leave the farm to Anthony, and he wants to sell it to the American nephew. But, like, why sell it to him? You can sell it to anyone. If you’re not going to give it to him, the point is you’re not leaving it to Anthony out of a strange spite. The only reason for this is to illuminate Rosemary with the possibility that instead of getting together with Anthony, which she shouldn’t, based on everything I saw in this movie, she could in fact get together with Jon Hamm.

There’s a world of possibilities out there. Apparently, though, not for Rosemary. She has dedicated her life to Anthony, who has never shown any romantic interest in her, soooo guess she just has to be patient?

In a strange interlude, which occurs during a film entirely comprising strange interludes, Anthony goes to a pub in some other town, and very much looks like he’s going to bang a local punk girl. Instead, after she tells him the worst thing she’s ever done, which she seems mighty proud of, he whispers something to her about how truly strange he is, and, from her reaction, we are given to imagine it is something fucking terrible.

Emily Blunt, god love her, looks throughout like she’s taking the piss. I think she thought she was signing up to something extraordinary, since this chap got so much acclaim for Doubt a bunch of years back, but instead, once filming started and she actually read the script instead of having it summarised for her by an unpaid intern, she realised this was a bit of old cobblers / bollocks, and so she might as well get paid.

Jamie Dornan looks as baffled at some of the things he’s saying as we are. It’s almost like maybe he had an earpiece, and with no knowledge of the script, they were telling him the lines he needed to say for the first time five seconds before he was to say them. Poor Jamie. I’m sure he made a lot of money from the 50 Shades movies, but getting a bit of credibility back by being in a half-decent film is going to keep eluding him for a while.

By the end of the film, all of the things that could have been obstacles are gone, no one is left to stop Rosemary and Anthony from getting together, and that’s when everything REALLY falls apart, but, I tell you what, as much as it doesn’t sound like it, I actually enjoyed watching this strange flick for almost most of its length. I don’t know how great the initial plan or story was, but along the way it feels like a lot of baffling choices were made to try and make it more of a pleasant product for the lowest information American audiences, and even then it couldn’t soften the strangeness of this fantastical tale.

There’s a scene where they’re almost clasping each other for the first time, and it’s pelting down rain, sheets of rain, but it’s actually happening in full sun, and the raindrops are so thick it’s obviously a sprinkler, and I just thought “wow, even the elements are mocking you, poor director.”

The song they use as the title of the flick, speaking as it does of wild mountain thyme and the purple heather intertwining, which is, phwoar, pretty raunchy, gets a few runs throughout, and, soft touch that I am, it stirred the heartstrings as they knew it would. I honestly first heard the song in an Irish pub in Sydney called The Carlisle, sung by enthusiastic Irish ex-pats who would bring their instruments and play of a Sunday afternoon, and it was a glorious song then and glorious now. Mostly people do what they’re asked to do, and they all mean well (except probably Christopher Walken, who now more than ever looks like a Sith emperor in waiting), so it’s hard to begrudge what they did here.

The most touching scenes involved Anthony and his dad, and the attempts to bridge the gap between being disappointed in life versus being disappointed by your kids not doing…something that you felt they should have done. The strangest conflict in the flick is where Father berates Son for not loving farming, and Son, a grown man, says in the smallest of small boy voices, “oh, don’t say that Daddy”. Which, you know, is strange, but their further reconciliation, punctuated as it is with a deathbed outpouring of love, can’t help but hit / hurt me right in the feels.

I’m not saying it’s a good movie. Most of my enjoyment came out of the fact that it’s not the absolute disaster I’d been led to believe it was. It’s also not often intentionally funny, so please don’t think I’m implying it’s a decent romantic comedy. If anything, it’s not even much of a romance. It’s about weird people who act pretty weird around each other and other people, and then they kind of work things out somehow in the end? That’s my bread and fucking butter! That’s the story of my fucking life! If I can’t enjoy something like this (you know, since FINALLY my people are getting some representation on the silver screen), then no one is allowed to.

Wild Mountain Thyme – you’ll say “what the fuck?” while watching it at least 6 times out of 10

“Welcome. Welcome to Ireland. My name’s Tony Reilly. I’m dead. They say, if an Irishman dies while he’s telling a story, you can rest assured, he’ll be back.” – no, Tony, no-one says that, stay dead why don’t you - Wild Mountain Thyme