Stories about an aspiring musical talent looking to make it big have been a favorite of filmmakers since the beginning of movies themselves. Every year we get multiple versions of this familiar theme, in both biopic and original forms.
And yet — there’s never been a movie quite like “Wild Rose”. Irish singer/actress Jessie Buckley delivers a star-making performance as Rose-Lynn Harlan. She’s a country singer living, in of all places, Glasgow, Scotland. Rose-Lynn has just been released from jail after serving a one-year sentence for drug smuggling. She returns home to her two young children (she had both before she was 18). Her stern mum (played by Julie Walters) has been taking care of the kids.
Red-headed Rose-Lynn is a fearless, free-flowing (though not care-free), sharp-tongued rebel. And she continues to be focussed on one goal: to go to Nashville and become a country music superstar. She’s been performing at the Glasgow version of the Grand Ole Opry (a local bar) for much of her life. She’s got an amazing voice and is local favorite. But that’s not enough. The fact that they still call her music “Country & Western” in Glasgow drives Rose-Lynn crazy and sums-up her frustration. She believes she was born in the wrong place — that she should have been born in America.
But she’s now an ex-con, with no job, and a single-mother — with a dream that’s slipping away. A chance encounter provides her with the opportunity to chase that dream, even if it means turning her back on her kids (again) and everyone else close to her.
“Wild Rose” explores the struggle between ambition and responsibility in the most grounded of ways. Director Tom Harper hooks us from the opening scene to a lead character who’s extremely unlikable. But as we get to know Rose-Lynn we can’t help but admire her passion and determination, and even root for her.
And just when you think things may be heading in a familiar direction, Nicole Taylor’s script maneuvers into uncharted territory, avoiding every possible cliche. Appearances by legendary BBC radio host Bob Harris and country singers Ashley McBryde and Kacey Musgraves add to the authenticity.
Buckley is simply tremendous. She’s in practically every scene, hitting all the high notes when it comes to the songs (both covers and original ones) and the conflicting nature of the complicated Rose-Lynn. You don’t need to be a country music fan to understand her pain, as she tries to prevent decisions of the past from defining her future. Or — maybe that’s just how it’s meant to be.
Walters has had her share of wise, feisty grandma roles in both American and British films. She’s at her absolute best here. This is one of the most challenging and moving on-screen mother-daughter relationships in recent memory. It’s impossible not to experience a wide array of emotions when these two women are interacting. Sophie Okonedo (“Hotel Rwanda”) leads a solid supporting cast as a wealthy Glasgow resident who sees something special in Rose-Lynn.
Fire and anger, hope and despair, heart and soul — it’s all here. A tattoo Rose-Lynn displays on her arm (a quote from songwriter Harlan Howard) describes country music as, “three chords and the truth”.
The truth about “Wild Rose” is that’s it’s THE must-see summer indie of 2019.