Wild Rose (2019)

“You really do have a voice. So what do you need to say?”

I merely liked Wild Rose after one watch; it actually seemed clumsy from the onset. Yet after another sitting, I was left convinced that I’d fallen a bit in love. It’s funny how a second glance can sometimes capture you that way. And with the help of the toe-tapping, foot-traveling tunes of Wynonna Judd & Bonnie Raitt & Trisha Yearwood, Wild Rose honors the attitude of tried and true country music with a female voice, using the rich melodies and the lyrics of the songs to help tell a universal story about the many definitions of home. That it features the year’s best performance so far is all the more reason to watch and to hear this one on the big screen. You won’t soon regret it.

Very little about the tenacious, self-damaging and effortlessly talented Rose-Lynn (Jessie Buckley) is left up for interpretation by the audience; Rose-Lynn is who she is – a woman of small physical and social stature…at least for the time being – propelled by a titanic presence whilst performing. She’s fresh out of jail after serving what feels like an endless sentence for ambivalently pushing drugs, a crime she blames more on the arrogance of judges than the ignorance of her own reckless abandon. Meeting her after her release is Marion (Julie Walters), her shrewd and skeptical mom, as well as her two cagey children Wynonna (Daisy Littlefield) and Lyle (Adam Mitchell).

One of the most important parts of the film lasts only a few frames. Rose-Lynn is newly reconciled with the family, her rightfully judgmental mother and her two little nuggets trying to figure out who she is, all while Rose-Lynn is tasked with the same test. And so she saunters to the dinner table dressed to the nines; she’s a woman trying to project an air and an image of success through her own Americanized identity and country singing assimilation. White leather boots made for walking, heavy eye shadow, a snide sneer with an unmistakable attitude, and a vulnerability that opens the entire endeavor up to honest introspection. Wild Rose does this with ease, capability and poise. The ancillary characters – here they’re people, places and entire communities – are always at the service of Rose-Lynn and her bumpy, begrudged ride to adulthood. This especially goes for the solid work from Sophie Okonedo as Susannah, a wealthy lady who Rose-Lynn works for as a daily woman, and who’s more or less the unadulterated moral compass of the entire film.

Unlike the latest iteration of A Star Is Born, screenwriter Nicole Taylor’s Wild Rose is more aggressive in its handling of the feisty leading lady’s talent, giving her bark and bite. And whereas the former film is a daunting personal journey because the singer Ally’s talents are doubted by most people, in this instance Rose-Lynn is doubted for who she is as a self-detrimental woman cruising through life with little damage control. The workmanlike direction from Tom Harper doesn’t leave much of an impression, but it doesn’t really need to either. This is Jessie Buckley’s film from rousing start to emotional finish, and she delivers a truly astounding performance as the Glasgow girl with an American heart. The only other film of hers that I’ve seen was 2018’s terribly overlooked Beast, and even then, the two roles are evidence enough to say that she’s among the best actresses working today. She’s absolutely limitless.

Wild Rose doesn’t stand out from the crowd because it’s some kind of exceptionally told fairy tale, but more so because it’s so utterly believable in its real life renderings. We’ve heard this song before, from the likes of Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore to The Wizard of Oz itself, the latter of which directly ties into the film’s final song “Glasgow (No Place Like Home)” written by Mary Steenburgen. These people hold grudges, make mistakes, offer advice, and make sacrifices with the hopes that it might help the ones they love most. In the film, Rose-Lynn directly states her affinity for country music stems from a belief that it’s three chords and the truth. The phrase is even tattooed on her right forearm. Wild Rose shows why you should have the gumption to bet on yourself in pursuit of a dream, holds as much bad fortune as it does good luck, and has the awareness to know that home is as much a place as it is a feeling. Sounds like a country song to me.

“May all your heartbreaks be songs, and all your songs be hits.”

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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