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Sleep Furiously

Lovely and comforting portrait of life in a Welsh village —Marty Mapes (DVD review...)

Colorless green photography plagues Sleep Furiously

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Wild Mountain Thyme feels like a badly needed Christmas hug.

Swan Lake

Love on the fence
Love on the fence

Back in 1987, John Patrick Shanley made quite a splash as the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Norman Jewison’s Moonstruck. What followed has been an interesting ride through the theatrical and cinematic arts. A mere three years after Moonstruck, anticipation was sky high for Shanley’s directorial debut, Joe Versus the Volcano, which opened with a thud but has quietly gained a greater appreciation over the years.

Shanley’s work is a roller coaster of highs like the award-winning (and risky) Doubt and relative lows like Congo. That kind of range is rare — and now Shanley’s returned to rather comfortable terrain with the romantic story that is Wild Mountain Thyme, which in turn is an adaptation of Shanley’s Broadway stage play entitled Outside Mullingar.

It’s a sort of love letter to many things Irish (including a hearty salute to Guinness) and it’s an expression of Shanley coming to terms with his own Irishness.

Wild Mountain Thyme isn’t a particularly complicated story and even the drama is rather mellow. It all centers around two adjacent farms, the Reillys and the Muldoons. Rosemary Muldoon was a lovelorn little girl who grew up to be an independent soul (Emily Blunt, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen). Her childhood crush was Anthony Reilly (Jamie Dornan, A Private War), a lad who also most definitely sought out his own path.

Well, sorta. Neither one has ever strayed far from the farm and yet both are quietly poked at and prodded by Shanley’s gentle, charming screenplay and direction. To wit, at one point, Rosemary jabs at Anthony, chiding him with this observation: “You’ve never ‘swung by’ anywhere in your life.”

Heartland

At the heart of Wild Mountain Thyme (besides the titular classic Irish folk song) is a small plot of land — a right of way — situated between the two farms. As lore has it, the piece of land was given to Rosemary after Anthony pushed her to the ground on that very spot when she was 10 years old. As the story unfolds, the true history is far more romantic — and sweet.

That sweetness ties to Anthony’s father, Tony (Christopher Walken, Batman Returns). Lamenting the loss of both his wife and the neighbor farmer Chris Muldoon, Tony’s looking to tidy up some loose ends by selling the farm to a nephew and pushing Anthony to find a wife.

From there, it’s a tale of fate, at least a wee bit, as Rosemary and Anthony seek their proper place. Blunt is — of course — terrific as a woman performing the tricky balancing act of independent spirit yet long-yearning for love. Dornan, though, turns out to be a huge surprise; this is a precise 180 from the rather notorious — even infamous — Fifty Shades trilogy in which he played a not-so-nice guy. Here, Dornan’s Anthony is sweetly goofy.

There’s that word again. “Sweet.”

But that’s also what makes Wild Mountain Thyme something special, especially right now, in this time of COVID-driven distancing. This isn’t Nicholas Sparks-style romance; this is (with the slight hope of not being too offensive to Sparks’ admirers) something much smarter and more relatable.

The White Swan

Action movies pick up the pace while careening toward a shattering, heart-stopping climax. In this one, the third act takes a different tact. Here, it’s the verbal jousting and snappy witticisms that escalate and the result is delightful, a heartwarming counterpunch to the typical blockbuster.

Shanley takes advantage of the scenario to offer up some interesting morsels on life, dreams and romance. It’s all a balancing act that introduces that Reilly nephew, Adam (Jon Hamm, Baby Driver) as a big-city counterpoint to the calmer life of those lush green Irish fields.

Adam — a companion for Rosemary’s whirlwind one-day trip to New York City — looks at things from a far less romantic view than Rosemary. In his eyes, the dreams children have make their adult lives miserable. Even more harshly, romantic ideas have a tendency to ruin lives.

Ah, but maybe more romantic notions will still prevail. In a movie that considers hope to be a force, it’s a refreshing journey down a different path, one lined with rolling green fields, rain (lots of rain at all the wrong times), heartfelt characters and hope. A healthy sense of hope.