Wild Rose March 12, 2020
1 Hr., 42 Mins.
ild Rose (2019) is an amiable addition to the “a star is born” subgenre. The star being born in the movie, which is directed by Tom Harper and written by Nicole Taylor, is Rose-Lynn Harlan (a revelatory Jessie Buckley). In most “a star is born” movies the star being born is an aspiring something or other undermined by some sort of unusual adversity that will inevitably be overcome. In
this film’s case its titular Rose — who’s rough around the edges, emotionally vulnerable, prone to outbursts — is a fledgling Scottish country singer. Her hardship to move past is that she’s a convict: as the film opens she’s just being released from jail, having wrapped up a year-long sentence for attempted heroin smuggling. She’s also a single mother of two. Her mother, Marion (Julia Walters), has consistently had to serve as a materfamilias for her grandkids.
Rose wants to be in the ilk of women like Bonnie Raitt and Loretta Lynn. She yearns to pack up her bags, head to Nashville (she’s based in Glasgow), and see through for herself an overnight success. She knows that she’s good enough to pull it off if luck has it — she’s been headlining well-attended concerts, as if she were some kind of Vegas staple, at Glasgow’s barroom equivalent of the Grand Ole Opry since she was a kid.
But she’s also acutely aware that she neither is in the right financial state nor has the general prospects to make a name for herself so simply just now. Sure she’s the only Scottish country singer she knows, which she thinks gives her an edge. Plenty of other country singers have had well-publicized and if anything reputation-bolstering brushes with the law. (Rose invokes Johnny Cash at least once in the movie.) But she can tell she’s still not quite at the point where she can talk about her struggles with a note of romance. At the beginning of the movie Rose takes a job as a maid for the wealthy (for reasons unclear) and kindly Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), who has connections and, once she finds out that Rose is a country star in the making and that she’s also talented, will lay them out.
The dilemma in Wild Rose rests on whether Rose will muck up her chances — which, especially once she starts to pen her own songs, seem pretty promising. (Flame-haired Buckley is as good a singer as she is an actress — a fine-tuned meeting-in-the-middle of emotional clarity and technical aptitude.) The movie doesn’t break new ground when it comes to “a star is born” movies — it winds up more a biopic-adjacent film where it’s the leading performance that gets us places. We aren’t inclined, then, to be too critical of its rise-to-the-top familiarities because its protagonist is such a compelling creation. Buckley, who in her short career has proven herself fairly chameleonic, could have soused her performance with a classic, primed-for-tragedy Janis Jolin-like pathos. The larger-than-life genius who self-destroys. But Buckley claws into the nuances, less infatuated with Rose’s sporadic outbursts and more so with homing in on the reality that while Rose is partial to following her instincts usually to her detriment, she genuinely is working to be better.
The film’s finale doesn’t declare that Rose is truly en route to becoming a star. Instead it showcases a small but still weighty victory, which, in addition to being good enough just based on where we see Rose go in the movie, is much more plausible — and promising — than the expected closer: a mainstream-breakthrough performance. (I ventured to guess, early on, that Wild Rose would end with Rose performing at the Grand Ole Opry; the film sort of gives us that, but refreshingly it refrains from indulging the obvious in general, going as far as complete subversion of old tropes a lot of the time.) If Buckley’s performance somehow doesn’t move you, then at the least her performance of the climactic song in the movie — “Glasgow (No Place Like Home),” which was written under too-crazy-to-be-true circumstances by the actress Mary Steenburgen — will likely get you to feel something. It's possible that Buckley's performance of it made me cry. B+