Wild Mountain Thyme

Anthony and Rosemary at the gate

 

From the very first shot of Wild Mountain Thyme I was thinking “Good god, surely people aren’t still making films like this!” The opening shot being an overhead of the lush slopes of rural Ireland while the soundtrack twiddled away in madly shamrocky fashion.

It got worse. A beejaysus-Irish voiceover announces “I’m dead”, by way of an introduction. The whimsy-ometer starts climbing into the red zone. And then I realised it’s Christopher Walken doing the bad Irish accent. The letters W, T and F start to appear in the air.

What the actual, it actually gets even worse, as we’re introduced to one Oirish character after another. Enter Walken as old farmer Tony Reilly, who’s wondering who to leave his farm to. His neighbour, Aoife Muldoon (Dearbhla Molloy) is having similar thoughts but she’s got a sensible, if whimsically pipe-smoking daughter, Rosemary (Emily Blunt) as an obvious heir. No such luck for Tony, whose son, Anthony (Jamie Dornan) is a big useless lump. So useless that Tony decides to ask an American cousin (Jon Hamm) if he’d rather have the farm instead.

There’s also the matter of a small bit of disputed land connecting the two farms, but we can ignore that since it makes no difference to anything, though writer/director John Patrick Shanley keeps returning to it as if it did.

What we can’t ignore, because it’s what the film is really about (apart from Irish-American Shanley’s affection for the old country), is the thing between Anthony and Rosemary. They love each other. Well, she loves him, even though he’s a big useless lump, but he seems indifferent to her, which is odd because it’s Emily Blunt, if you know what I mean.

Enter Jon Hamm from that America, driving a Rolls Royce up muddy, narrow country roads, to illustrate what a massive tool he is, and to indicate that massive disruption threatens. What if he got the farm… and the girl?

Are you still reading? If so, you’ve probably got a soft spot for this sort of thing, begorrah and to be sure. And, to be fair, there are things in the film’s favour. Imagine a faintly comedic retread of those French adaptations of Maurice Pagnol’s novels like Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources (or Daniel Auteuil’s under-appreciated The Well Digger’s Daughter). It’s cosy, big-hearted and engaging. Everyone in it is on the comedy spectrum (even Dornan, whose performance brings to mind Ardal O’Hanlon’s dim-bulb priest Father Dougal in the Irish comedy series Father Ted). At one point Dornan falls into a lake off a boat, in classic “I just threw myself into the lake” style.

 

Jon Hamm, Jamie Dornan and Christopher Walken
Face off: cousin Adam (Jon Hamm), Anthony (Jamie Dornan) and Tony (Christopher Walken)

 

Wild Mountain Thyme is also a relentlessly charming film. There are a some lovely Irish songs. Most of all there’s the thing between Anthony and Rosemary. Anthony is such a dork you have to root for him, and Dornan plays him straight, no winking to camera. The only concession he makes is to bend his Irish accent slightly towards Walken’s, which is eccentric to say the least. But then pointing out eccentric speech patterns in Walken isn’t going to shake the planet to its foundations.

And Blunt and Dornan just fit so well together that each improves the other’s performance. It’s chemistry, invisible magic, but there’s a pragmatic reason too. They know that if they don’t get this relationship right, the film will sink.

Writer/director John Patrick Shanley is best known as a playwright for the theatre, though he notably won an Oscar for writing Moonstruck, another romance about mismatches. You can laugh at his desperate padding of this film’s plot to get the running time up to length. In fact you can be amused by all sorts of things in this film – that Hamm is in it at all! Or Walken! – and it is a bit of a mad custard, but in the end it is also simply rather lovely. Got to be a space for a bit of that in everyone’s life. To be sure.

 

Wild Mountain Thyme – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

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© Steve Morrissey 2021

 

 

The Devil Wears Prada

Women in black: Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt

 

The sort of film that has an inbuilt media audience – women’s magazines – who will receive it with the same lack of scrutiny as they treat each launch of a new beauty product, The Devil Wears Prada is a clever title halfway towards being a clever film. It’s adapted by Aline Brosh McKenna from Lauren Weisberger’s chick-lit novel, and since Weisberger’s spent some time working at American Vogue as editor Anna Wintour’s assistant we don’t have to look too far for its inspiration. Anne Hathaway plays the simpering Weisberger avatar, an intern/newbie at a fashion magazine not unadjacent to Vogue. And Meryl Streep is also clearly styled on the fashion bible’s redoubtable editor, who isn’t nicknamed “Nuclear” Wintour for nothing, a woman whose helmet-haired pronouncements make and break careers both inside the magazine and out in the big designer-y world.

So far, so frightening. Getting the best of it is Emily Blunt, playing the posh English cow who guards the boss (and her own job) like a hound at the gates of hell. Stanley Tucci, meanwhile, puts in another of those amazingly camp performance he seems to be able to pull out of nowhere and provides an otherwise slightly absent beating heart as the magazine’s fashion stylist. The plot? Hathaway cowed, gulled, at bay, crossing fashionista swords with Blunt, shrinking in awe at Streep’s every utterance, consoled by Tucci, rinse and repeat. There’s more meat on a supermodel, but – as with the fashion world – what is on offer looks tasty enough. Structured like a fashion mag, it’s a case of one page of substance followed by ten pages of name-dropping, product placement and status-shaming. In the old-media world these are called advertisements. However, as readers of fashion magazines will tell you, the advertisements are every bit as much part of the experience as the editorial. And in among all this glossy stuff is a nub of something delicious, a drama that teases us about which way it’s going to go. Is this Cinderella (Hathaway blossoming and going to the ball)? Or a slo-mo Faust (Hathaway selling her soul for a gaudy bauble)? Not quite sharp or angry enough to be a satire, it’s clearly aimed at people who know their Jimmy Choo from their Dolce and Gabbana (yes, that’s an easy one) and don’t, unlike me, tend to buy their clothes on eBay.

 

The Devil Wears Prada – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2006