[REVIEW] ‘WILD ROSE’ – sympathy for the unbridled

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James C. Clay// Film Critic

WILD ROSE

Rated R, 100 minutes.
Director: Tom Harper
Cast: Jessie Buckley, Julie Walters, Sophie Okonedo

The sheer amount of aspirational pop star films is exhausting. It’s as if the filmmakers behind such films as A STAR IS BORN or TEEN SPIRIT have ordained their leads as a pedestal to be put upon as they achieve their dreams cloaked under a level of talent that is unprecedented. These films are self-aggrandizing stories that are fun fairy tales with tabloid drama. With the film WILD ROSE – a story about a true journey of self-discovery while showcasing talent from its star Jessie Buckley – it makes all those other entries look like after hours karaoke. 

Directed by filmmaker Tom Harper, this marriage of country Western soul and Scottish aesthetic forms a film that’s a deeply passionate look at the blending of cultures and a story of respecting the journey. 

WILD ROSE follows a rough and tumble woman named Rose (Buckley of CHERNOBYL), who is indeed wild and has room to grow, but she filled with an unbridled love and has talent to match it. She’s out for the Nashville country music scene – specifically the works of those who played at the legendary Grand Ole Opry. 

Rose is just out of prison for a drug charge. She has two children whom she has no interest in caring for on her quest for stardom. Her mother Marion (Julie Walters) tries to shift her focus from lofty dreams, but their dynamic is one that does shame Rose into motherhood. The drama in this film is played out with such care and empathy for its characters. Discovering yourself requires a bit of narcissism, and it can be a painful process for anybody who has nothing more than lint in their pockets. 

Jessie Buckley, left, and Sophie Okonedo in ‘WILD ROSE.’ Courtesy of NEON.

This glitz-free drama is a painfully real film that rises above the typical films about dreamers. It drops the glitter in favor of good, old fashioned blood, sweat and tears. Scriptwriter Nicole Taylor (UK television’s THE C WORD) and Buckley give Rose a rough streak that feels believable, even though her dreams are outside her reach.

Being on the Western side of the pond Americana Country music has developed into something a bit hokey, and it has become an outlet for male singers wearing tight jeans and a baseball cap to make pandering jingles about cold beers and short skirts to unsuspecting fans just looking to be exploited. (Bo Burnham’s brilliant song articulates this perfectly.) In Scotland, country music is about as niche as underwater basket weaving; therefore, the film does romanticize this cheesy sector of American music. As Rose’s signature tattoo says, she’s only interested in “three chords and the truth.”

With Taylor’s fantastic script, Buckley’s raw talent (and Harper’s direction) create a character that feels plucked out of real life and goes on an earnest journey of self discovery. If any film of the recent barrage of aspiring pop star movies have any semblance of truth, this film subverts the expectations of dreamers around the world by saying the only way to make a change is to look inward. WILD ROSE avoids nearly every pitfall that films of this ilk usually fall prey to; the story plays out in poignant fashion by never forcing the drama.

WILD ROSE is a film that should be plucked from obscurity to become a timeless tale that earns every twist along the way. While this story has been played on the jukebox time and time again, this rendition never stops being satisfying. 

Grade: B+