Review: WILD ROSE
There are few movie pleasures better than watching a star being born before one’s eyes. Jessie Buckley owns every scene of WILD ROSE and announces herself as a major star in the making. So much so, that it makes you think that you’re watching something new instead of a familiar story given a fresh coat of paint.
WILD ROSE has all the ingredients of a Country song, which is appropriate since its main character Rose-Lynn Harlan is an aspiring, and talented, Country singer. We’re introduced to her being released from a prison stint, for foolishly tossing a packet of heroin over a fence to her friends in jail, going to meet her long-time boyfriend for a quick shag, and finally going home to her mother to be reunited with her young children. Children who are less than thrilled to be separated from their responsible grandmother (Julie Walters) to live with their irresponsible mother.
Bad life choices pretty much define Rose. It’s a tribute to the charisma of Jessie Buckley’s charisma that she’s not met with instant revulsion. And that’s before she sings and reveals just what a powerhouse star in the making she is. Rose has “Three Chords and the Truth” tattooed on her arm and you believe that those words mean a lot to her. Or, at least the “Three Chords” part. Because, growing up and grappling with the truth is going to be the main thrust of the film.
Well, that and just focusing on Jessie Buckley performing. She’s a rare talent, blessed with a remarkable voice that’s at home with a thick Scottish accent as it is in belting out Country tunes. And she belts them out with swagger, easily taking the spotlight. The fact that these are other people’s songs is something that WILD ROSE is well aware of, but it keeps them coming again and again and every time the film gets a jolt of electricity.
There’s nothing really remarkable about the filmmaking by director Tom Harper, other than getting good performances out of the whole cast, but sometimes less is more. And knowing a good thing when he sees it is definitely a strength.
The middle portion is where the film treads familiar, rather formulaic ground. Rose-Lynn lucks into an opportunity courtesy of the upper class woman she starts a cleaning job with, and has to deal with her duty to her children and her dreams. You know, familiar stuff. It helps that it’s well done familiar stuff, with Julie Walters in particular turning in a strong counter performance to Jessie Buckley, but it only really comes alive when Jessie Buckley sings. Considering how Rose-Lynn walks into any situation and seems to aim straight for the worst choice possible, you know where the story is headed for much of it. At some point the penny is going to drop. And that kind of makes the whole second act of the film feel overly long.
But, the film is sure footed enough that it regains its way. It threads the needle between following your dreams heedlessly and giving up on your dreams, and arrives at the right ending. Finding the right ending isn’t always easy, there are plenty of ways that a film could have taken a cheap short cut to a happy ending, ways that it acknowledges itself, but it’s happy to avoid them. And that choice pays off with WILD ROSE having a heck of a satisfying ending.
WILD ROSE is not a great film. But, it has a great lead performance. If there’s any justice, Jessie Buckley will be remembered when awards season rolls around. I think it’s the best performance by anyone in the first half of 2019. It’s a real crowd pleaser that looks like the launch of a great career.