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Wild Rose

2020-05-14 09:36
Jessie Buckley in 'Wild Rose.'


Rose-Lynn is a troubled young woman who, after getting out of prison for smuggling drugs, she has to find a way back into “normal life” and reconnect with her constantly exasperated mother and her two young children that she barely knows. More than anything, though, Rose-Lynn, wants to make it as a country singer. She certainly has the voice for it. The only problem – aside for the very real responsibilities of her day to day life – is that she is a working-class Glaswegian girl through and through. And who ever heard of a country music star from Glasgow?


Fitting right in with the past decade’s long list of excellent movies about music, it boggles the mind that not only did Wild Rose fail to make any sort of mark during last year’s awards season (outside of the BAFTAs, of course) it never even made it to our cinemas. Not even a limited run at Cinema Nouveau.

Moaning about the fickle nature of film distribution and award ceremonies is something that even I’m tired of whingeing about, though, and we now have the chance to watch this precious gem of a movie – albeit a year later and straight to DSTV Box Office. And, to be fair, unlike certain other straight-to-streaming films out there (*cough*Annihilation*cough*), you don’t lose too much watching Wild Rose on the (relatively) small screen.

It is, however, still a total must-see in whatever format you might find it.

Mixing the emotional rawness of Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born; the unassuming, working-class grit of British kitchen-sink dramas; and the inspiringly bittersweet films of John Carney (Once, Begin Again, Sing Street), Wild Rose feels as familiar as a favourite LP but is told with enough verve, honesty and wit to bring a fresh spin to even its most cliché elements. And, oh yes, it also happens to feature a killer soundtrack and one of the great, powerhouse central performance of the last year by Irish actress/ singer and rapidly rising star, Jessie Buckley.

Buckley started her showbiz career by appearing in an Irish singing competition show at the age of seventeen before transitioning into acting and garnering plenty of attention for her work in Chernobyl and Judy, but this is clearly her big break. And, boy, does she make the most of it.

Buckley is clearly an exceptional singer with a voice that plays like the love child of Patsy Cline and Janis Joplin so she is more than convincing as someone who can, with just the right amount of luck and drive, find herself on her way to major stardom. Rose-Lynn has the name, the voice, the ambition, and the charming, spitfire personality to make it all the way to the top but it’s Buckley’s exceptional performance that makes us really believe that she will.

She is, however, no less convincing at capturing the other side of Rose-Lynn: the self-destructive, highly irresponsible yin to her bright, vivacious yang. We first meet Rose-Lynn strutting her way out of prison to the encouragement and warm goodbyes of both prisoners and staff and, wasting no time at all, heads straight to her casual boyfriend for a quickie. It takes all of five minutes to see her for the force of nature she is.

And then the other shoe drops. After dawdling most of the day away, she finally makes it to her mother’s door where, waiting inside for her, isn’t just her clearly exasperated mother but her two young children as well. The tension between her and her mother – Julie Waters in typically brilliant form and armed with what is apparently as flawless a Scottish accent as you can hope to find – is clear right from the off. For all that she resents her mother’s lack of support for her dreams, it’s pretty easy to take against Rose-Lynn here. She is clearly reluctant to take responsibility for her two children that she had at far too young an age, clearly nonplussed about the fact that they’re being raised not by their deadbeat mother but by their grandmother.

The rest of the film, inevitably, is all about Rose-Lynn’s struggle between her own dreams and her love but lack of commitment for her children. She is, very often, the villain of her own story, and she does nearly all she can to drive both her children and the audience away. The real triumph here isn’t just that writer, Nicole Taylor, and director, Tom Harper, make Rose-Lynn’s internal struggles perfectly apparent without needing to resort to obvious exposition but that Jessie Buckley keeps the audience firmly on Rose-Lynn’s side even when we hate her.

There’s a generosity of spirit and an exuberance to Buckley’s performance that has you empathizing with everything she goes through (sometimes to the point of pain) and rooting for her every step of the way, but she never overplays her hand by obfuscating Rose-Lynn’s many, many flaws. It’s a pretty spectacular balancing act, all told, that immerses us in her story in a way that all the fancy 3D technology in the world can’t hope to replicate.

The final piece to the puzzle of what makes Wild Rose such a potent example of its genre is, of course, the music. Music films can so easily live and die on their music and, fortunately, Wild Rose kills in this department too. Joining such luminaries as Inside Llewyn Davis, Once and Crazy Heart (another big influence on the film, incidentally), the music in Wild Rose is so good that you’ll be reaching repeatedly for the soundtrack album long after seeing the film.

Mixing some excellent original songs – including its show-stopping centrepiece, Glasgow (No Place Like Home) – with covers both obvious (John Prine, Emmylou Harris, Hank Snow) and not so obvious (Primal Scream), Jessie Buckley, along with her crack backing band, makes each and every song her own. However great the songs are on their own, though, they’re even better when punctuating even the most emotionally draining and downbeat parts of the film with blasts of electrifying energy.

Unfortunately, none of this has stopped it from getting a bit lost in the shuffle against juggernauts like Rocketman, and A Star Is Born (Blinded By the Light suffered a similar fate, though at least that actually came to cinemas here) but it is a hidden gem well worth uncovering.



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