Ask any actor, Irish accents are notoriously tricky. Even natives can struggle with regional dialects. So it is a little alarming that the first voice you hear in "Wild Mountain Thyme" is Christopher Walken's, who sounds exactly like you think Christopher Walken attempting an Irish accent would. It is a bold choice, certainly, and not the most solid footing to start out on. Still it might be worth giving this odd little duckling of a film a chance.
"Wild Mountain Thyme" is the brainchild of John Patrick Shanley, the Oscar, Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winner behind "Doubt" and "Moonstruck." First a Tony-nominated play called "Outside Mullingar," the story is about Rosemary Muldoon (Emily Blunt) and Anthony Reilly (Jamie Dornan), the lonely children of neighboring farmers who should be together but aren't.
Rosemary, we're told, has always been in love with Anthony. They've been awkwardly circling one another's lives since they were 10 years old and she beat up another girl who teased him. But he has other things on his mind than marriage, although what exactly those things are is anyone's guess. These beautiful farmers aren't keen to reveal much to each other, themselves or the audience. Maybe the cows know. Maybe they think there's time to wait. But that time is starting to run out — both have lost a parent and both her mother Aiofe (a delightful Dearbhla Molloy, reprising her Broadway role) and his father Tony (Walken) are also nearing the end and thinking about passing on their farms.
While Rosemary is her mother's obvious choice, Tony is less willing to simply give his son the land. He's concerned about this direction in life and confirmed bachelor status and would sooner gift it to his American nephew Adam (Jon Hamm), who puddle jumps from New York to Ireland as though he's taking a trip to Boston. There's also a land dispute at the crossroads of the two properties that means that the Reillys have to get out of their car and unlock a gate every time they go anywhere. For two families who don't seem to know or care how many acres they own, it's unclear why ownership of the crossroads would be so important. Like too many things in the film, it seems that it's only there for the sake of quirk.
In any event, the threat of Adam and losing the farm inspires Anthony to start to think about planning to propose to Rosemary. This is stretched out for over an hour. Ah, romance!
"There's no doubt you could do better, but you don't seem to be doing much," Anthony rehearses with a donkey.
The writing is wry and occasionally quite funny. It's not unsurprising that it made for a good play. But on film it moves at a languorous pace. Like its characters, it's not interested in getting anywhere anytime soon. And Adam's introduction and arc (which includes Rosemary making an impulse day trip to New York) feels like a different movie entirely.
"Wild Mountain Thyme" also presumes that the audience is rooting for Rosemary and Anthony from the beginning. Although there are hints at chemistry, it is an extremely awkward and repressed connection on Anthony's end and I'm not certain whether it's the character or Dornan.
But the Western Ireland vistas are lovely, and the score is too. And there is a good late-film scene with Rosemary and Anthony and some bottled Guinness. "Wild Mountain Thyme" might be just the understated blend you need for a cold December night.
"Wild Mountain Thyme," a Bleecker Street release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for "some thematic elements and suggestive comments." Running time: 102 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.