With Jessie Buckley’s performance in Wild Rose, a star is born. Buckley’s vivacious portrayal of young Glaswegian Rose-Lynn Harlan is why terms like “tour de force” exist. It’s not that her acting is over-the-top or obvious and theatrical. Rather, it’s so raw and uninhibited that we cannot help but empathize and cheer her on, flaws and all.
And Rose-Lynn has flaws; fresh out of prison for a narcotics possession, her first stop isn’t to see her two children being cared for by her no-nonsense mother, Marion (the wonderful Julie Walters), but rather to hook up with a grungy boyfriend. When she finally does come home, it’s an awkward reunion; her daughter is silent, her son more eager but still cautious around mum. Marion is stern and resolved, yet there’s a clear kindness in her; she’s tough because she has to be in this harsh world of the Scottish working class. There’s no time for fantasies like Rose-Lynn’s dream of becoming a country singer–not “country-western,” mind you–in Nashville. But when Rose-Lynn impresses Susanna (Sophie Okonedo), the wealthy English woman she begins working for as a housecleaner, she finds the embers of her dream rekindled. Susanna becomes a patron of sorts, encouraging Rose-Lynn to meet BBC Radio 2 DJ Bob Harris (not the Lost In Translation Bill Murray character) and putting on a backyard GoFundMe-esque fundraiser to get the young singer to Nashville. Yet there’s always a weighty tension, as Rose-Lynn’s dreams of singing and stardom never seem to include her own children. Is this country singer fantasy a dream or a delusion?
Wild Rose is a mashup of Ken Loach and John Carney tropes: it’s British kitchen sink social realism meets musical fantasy. The city of Glasgow serves as the perfect environment for Rose-Lynn’s story, a bastion of contemporary Scottish life with a mix of working-class poor and wealthy elites. Late in the film, there’s a powerful overhead God’s-eye shot of Rose-Lynn and Susanna walking in parallel paths, only Susanna is walking back into her garden party full of happy, wealthy guests, while Rose-Lynn is walking alone down the grey driveway, separated from the party by a wall. The image is striking and affecting, albeit a bit obvious. Issues of class, race, and cultural appropriation are all on display here. “I should have been born in America! I’m an American!” Rose-Lynn declares to Bob Harris. And in some ways it’s true; she’s loud and opinionated, totally sure of herself despite evidence otherwise.
Wild Rose‘s narrative has plenty of opportunities to go sideways, either to become a treacly sentimental Hallmark channel-like melodrama, or a dark-and-brooding moral tale about a rise and fall from fame, or even a didactic political allegory about Brexit and class structures in the UK. Thankfully, it’s none of these, instead taking a familiar idea and playing with it until the tune is just right, like a good pop or country song should do. “Three chords and the truth,” is tattooed on Rose-Lynn’s arm as a country music mantra. Like a country song, there’s a simplicity to the structure and lyrics which, at a glance, may not seem particularly deep, yet offers treasures of emotional resonance once you let the song/film into your heart. Director Tom Harper and writer Nicole Taylor have fashioned a rich, soulful tale of finding one’s place in the world. But it’s still Buckley’s film; with incredible talent like this, she’s meant to be a star. And that’s the truth, three chords and all.
IMDB Listing: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5117428/