Anthony (Jamie Dornan) likes flowers. He also likes Rosemary (Emily Blunt) but has a hard time telling her so. He has a hard time telling her about the flowers, too. There’s a lot that Anthony and Rosemary don’t say—to each other, to themselves—that’s painfully obvious to anyone within eyesight. Not that they’re ever very far apart: Their families own farms next to each other. Actually, Rosemary’s family owns a strip of land between Anthony’s farm and the road, which means that any time Anthony comes or goes, he must open and close two gates. And in the pouring Irish rain, it’s more than a nuisance.

But it’s not the only nuisance ’round these parts. Rosemary has a horse that refuses to stay in its stable; Anthony has a father (Christopher Walken) who’s thinking about selling the farm to Anthony’s cousin—an American; Rosemary has a Dad (Don Wycherley) who takes great pleasure in murdering crows; and so on. Like the two gates, they’re all metaphors—as is the rain, which drenches everyone and everything. In one scene, the rain pours so suddenly on Anthony you can almost see the grip out of frame holding the empty bucket.

That might make the production value of Wild Mountain Thyme sound cheap, but I think it’s intentional. To take any of this seriously would be a mistake.

Written and directed by John Patrick Shanley (Joe Versus the VolcanoDoubt) and based on his play, Outside MullingarWild Mountain Thyme takes its title from an Irish folk song (also known as “Purple Heather” and “Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go?”). The song plays a minor part in the story, which revolves around Anthony and Rosemary, their family farms, ancient history, and the suitor from America (Jon Hamm). That makes Wild Mountain Thyme sound straight as an arrow. The movie is anything but: Like an Irish country road, getting from here to there in Wild Mountain Thyme takes twists and turns, none dark, all odd.

Emily Blunt and Jon Hamm in Wild Mountain Thyme. All photos courtesy of Bleecker Street Media.

For starters, there’s the reoccurring theme from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Rosemary identifies with the white swan from the ballet, but for little other reason, it seems, than to allow Shanley to use the music. Then there’s the character of Tony (Walken), who opens the movie by telling us that if an Irishman keels over in the middle of a story, he will return to finish it. And thus, Tony is our narrator from beyond the grave. Walken feels seismically out of place in this movie until he shares a quiet moment with his son about falling in love. It’s wonderful.

Wild Mountain Thyme is an odd duck, but no matter how far off the rails things seem to go, Shanley has an uncanny ability to pull it back together with some beautifully written words. Funny ones, too. In one scene, an old man casually approaches Adam (Hamm) at a party:
“Have you eaten?”
“Not yet,” Adam replies.
“Best stay clear of the pudding,” the man says. “I think it’s off.” Pause. “I know it’s off.”

In another, Adam has a gift for Anthony:
“What is it?” Anthony asks, unfolding a raincoat.
“It’s a raincoat,” Adam replies.
“It’s white.”
“It’s a white raincoat.”

And so on.

Hamm is one of the best parts of Wild Mountain Thyme. Dornan and Blunt play their characters with mannerisms so stilled it’s downright infuriating. When Hamm shows up with swagger so natural, so disarming, it’s a wonder the movie doesn’t crack in two.

It kind of does: After Adam’s appearance, Dornan and Blunt’s performance gain shading. And Wild Mountain Thyme gains momentum and begins heading toward a purpose. It still meanders, but at least the destination is clear.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Wild Mountain Thyme (2020)
Directed by John Patrick Shanley
Written by John Patrick Shanley, based on his play Outside Mullingar
Produced by Anthony Bregman, Bradley Gallo, Michael A. Helfant, Martina Niland, Leslie Urdang, Alex Witchel
Starring: Jamie Dornan, Emily Blunt, Jon Hamm, Christopher Walken, Dearbhla Molloy, Don Wycherley
Bleecker Street Media, Rated PG-13, Running time 102 minutes, Now playing in select theaters (where open) and via Video On Demand.