By Jason Adams | Reviews | February 3, 2021 |
By Jason Adams | Reviews | February 3, 2021 |
Are straight people okay? Can somebody check on straight people? Straight people, if you’re reading this, knock once on your screen for “I am okay,” and twice for “The call is coming from inside of the house.” I only ask because Wild Mountain Thyme, the latest film from Moonstruck screenwriter and Doubt playwright John Patrick Shanley, which stars Jamie Dornan and Emily Blunt in an, uhh, out-there romance, has me worried about y’all.
Dornan and Blunt play Anthony and Rosemary, two star-crossed next-door farming neighbors, who from the safety of their two sides of the fence, have been mooning over one another since they were little children. Well, technically Rosemary’s been the one doing most of the mooning, or what any rational human person would categorize as “mooning.” Anthony’s been doing something further out than that. Neptune maybe. He’s been Neptuning.
Set upon the greenest pastures of rural Ireland any lad or lassie has ever seen, this is a terrific film for day-dreaming about travel from the safety of your couch, a vital instinct in 2020. However, one spends the majority of Wild Mountain Thyme just kind of confused. Emily Blunt and Jamie Dornan are about as beautiful and charming as people come on this planet. The atoms that climbed up onto one another to build those two knew exactly what they were doing. Anthony and Rosemary, with their perfectly tousled don’t-care hair and sunbeam cheekbones, their lightly-muddied work-clothes and out-of-time shawls and woolen sweaters, are a vision. Standing beside one another they’ll make you go cross-eyed. They make for a spectacle of Celtic perfection. Yet the two of them have spent years in this gorgeous place being gorgeous people, and neither one will—after decades of near cohabitation—make any move on the other.
It’s inexplicable; an affront to our senses. Do we not have eyes to witness beautiful movie stars being beautiful together? What is even happening with these two? There are a few flashbacks to their childhood that involve another little girl, ones that lightly nod towards ye olde tangled emotional complications, but the film makes very little of that. Instead, for the majority of Wild Mountain Thyme,we’re left with, absolute consternation. There’s a void, a gaping maw, where common sense should be. In her defense, Rosemary is bright enough to sense this maw; it’s definitely coming from Anthony’s general direction, and her frustration builds alongside ours as the movie progresses. Finally, a dramatic rainstorm sweeps in across the plains and traps the two indoors (these scenes give off some heavy The Quiet Man vibes, as any Irish romance should strive for) and Rosemary goes for broke. Then—a millennia of heterosexuality suddenly breaks in the process?
Now, I’m going to spoil the WTF secret at the heart of Wild Mountain Thyme, because it’s the only explanation of what is keeping Rosemary and Anthony apart. Be warned: it’s the sort of thing that must be stated out loud (or in print), screamed from the highest mountain (of thyme or no), lest one starts believing it is they who have in fact gone mad. You, my friends, have not gone mad. This happens.
SPOILER WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW:
Anthony believes he is a honey-bee.
A bee. A gatherer of honey.
Okay, fine. A honey-bee. Why not? It’s 2020. Bees happen.
Rosemary has a brief moment of shock but she gets over it pretty quickly — weirdly quickly, honestly. So, why shouldn’t we? Shanley very clearly wants his story to fit into the Folk tradition; this story isn’t supposed to be plain reality. The grass glimmers a little too bright, all the better for this heightened fairytale-adjacent place and the one-step-off people who inhabit it. Yet the experience of waiting for what’s up with these people, gorgeous though they may be, felt to me like a two-hour exercise in grudgingly empty conflict. Indeed, that gorgeousness actively works against it. In the time-honored tradition of makeover-cinema, at least smudge some dirt on Emily Blunt’s exquisite cheekbone! Make me believe at any point that these two shouldn’t immediately be together. But there’s nothing. Until there is. By golly, is there. Yet when Anthony’s outrageous secret is finally revealed in the last reel it feels worse than nothing. It feels absurd. It is absurd. Flatly absurd. The film, admittedly, knows it is absurd. The first person who hears it falls off a very high stone wall, doubled over in laughter.
But how are we supposed to feel about that? All these years of drama we’ve just witnessed (the film has an intimately epic feel) and all of these characters that buzz around the story (most specifically Christopher Walken and Dearbhla Molloy as Anthony’s father and Rosemary’s mother, respectively), all coming and going in serious and oft dark and despondent fashion, are reduced to a WTF meme? Suddenly, the question in the moment of revelation becomes has Wild Mountain Thyme been a subversion of romance cliche this whole time? Is this actually the Waiting For Godot of rom-coms?
Which brings me back to my opening thesis: are straight people okay? Have all of the proper romantic conflicts between straight people been used up by now on-screen and so… this… is what is left? If so I am worried! It’s been a boom-time for queer romance, with films like Call Me By Your Name, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Moonlight and Ammonite, making the case for same-sex love stories having a real sense of stakes; romances that really come across in a profound and meaningful way. Wild Mountain Thyme seems to make the exact same case, just by inversion. Romance is dead; long may romance bee buried.
Wild Mountain Thyme comes to theaters and On Demand on December 11.
Epidemiologists do not think it’s safe yet to go to theaters even with social distancing and safety measures in place. This review of a theatrical release is not an endorsement or suggestion otherwise. This film was reviewed via a screening link.
Jason Adams wishes his parents had named him after the killer in the Friday the 13th movies, but takes comfort in the fact that on their first date they went to see The Exorcist. He compulsively spins his daily nonsense at his site My New Plaid Pants, and then occasionally for The Film Experience and AwardsWatch. He’s a member of GALECA and can be followed, if one dares, on both Twitter and Instagram. Vincent Price is King.
Header Image Source: Bleecker Street