Any new film by writer John Patrick Shanley is an event - but is his latest "Wild Mountain Thyme" worth your time?
The Oscar-winning "Moonstruck" is one of the most charming films ever committed to film and John Patrick Shanley's follow-up "Doubt," starring Meryl Streep, deservedly won five Oscar nominations.
Now comes Shanley's "Wild Mountain Thyme," the big-screen adaptation of his Broadway hit "Outside Mullingar." It's the story of two lonely young Irish farmers (played by the impossibly gorgeous Jamie Dornan and Emily Blunt) who live on neighboring farms and how their deep and difficult one-sided courtship takes decades to blossom into love.
On paper the script is flawless, but predictably it runs into trouble with the Irish public when you read the cast list. Why, the Irish want to know, is Christopher Walken playing an elderly Mayo farmer with one foot in the grave? Doesn't that describe half the actors in the Abbey Theatre?
What, they demand, is Emily Blunt, the daughter of a barrister and even worse British, doing playing a comely Irish lass in a red shawl? Aren't there a million homegrown Irish actresses only jumping for the opportunity?
How you feel about Shanley's casting decisions in the movie may color your take on Wild Mountain Thyme before you actually see it, but once you do sit down to watch it, let me tell you, all bets will be off.
You'll see right away that his two great themes are here again: death and desire. Rosemary (Blunt) wants her life to blossom like the swan in the famous ballet, but Anthony (Dornan) wants to keep to himself in case his secrets are ever discovered, turning him into an improbably handsome recluse.
It's not the best setup for a steamy country love affair though is it? But half the fun of "Wild Mountain Thyme" – and yes I'm afraid it often is a lot of fun - is watching people who are made for each other find inventive ways to keep missing the very people who will eventually save them.
There's simply no denying that Blunt's Irish accent is about as convincing as Tom Cruise's in the risible "Far And Away." Remarkably, Walken's Irish accent is even less so, yet in his defense he knows the part of this elderly Irish father in his bones because the circumstances he's exploring are universal, playing a Da in despair over a ne'er do well son.
Shanley's great sin here is that he obviously isn't all that interested in Irish authenticity, what he really wants is the star power of Hollywood heavy hitters for his film to reach as many people as he can with a story about the importance of pursuing the thing or person that lights you up, no matter what people say to your face or back about it.
So the people who are offended by Blunt's outrageously dirty face (to signal the travails of life on an Irish farm) are probably missing the point. This film isn't about Ireland as such, it's more a film about love that's set in Ireland. And Shanley, like Madonna, has something to say about it, and "Wild Mountain Thyme" is the result.
If the Irish cultural gatekeepers aren't happy, well that's too bad. Watching it with a notebook to cite all the offenses against the motherland, you would probably include the torrential downpours, the cute little cottages, the toothless old farmers, and the pub sing songs. So hang him for offenses to Irish authenticity or maybe just get over yourself and appreciate the film for what it is, a heartfelt celebration of human romance.
What the armchair commentariat who haven't seen the film yet don't realize is that professional critics who have are fairly divided about its charms but rarely scathing. This is because the film seems to elude all the nets cast about it. It's Irish but it's also not, it's a romantic comedy but it's also a much deeper meditation on life and death, it's straightforward but at times it's also arrestingly weird.
Shanley's subject isn't old Ireland but instead what Yeats called the foul rag and bone shop of the heart. That's a very mysterious place and weird things can happen there and this film knows it and shows it. Like Anthony in the film perhaps in time, we will eventually all calm down and see what we missed the first go around too.