It probably isn’t lost on most film fans lately that Jessie Buckley is having a great start to her year. With her recent release Beast still providing accolades and the BAFTA’s nominating her a rising star, she is having quite a 2019. Now she has another peg to hang her hat on because in Wild Rose she gives a gripping performance that elevates a film that plays as a simple Wizard of Oz coming of age story into something more, something vibrant and joyous.
Wild Rose follows recently paroled country music singer Rose-Lynn Harlan (Buckley) as she returns to the family she left behind in Glasgow. While she expects she can settle back into her regular existence at the local country music club she is rudely awakened to life on the outside and that life isn’t going to hand her what she wants in life on a silver platter. Facing a judgemental mother (Julie Walters) and the challenge of reconnecting with the two kids she hasn’t seen in years, Rose has got some growing up to do.
Despite a clear-cut story that only really requires a modicum of delicacy, Rose opens in less than stellar fashion. To set the scene, director Tom Harper and writer Nicole Taylor lay on the flaws thick. They steamroll you with identifiable sins, the kind of noticeable yet sanitary problems that are easily fixable over the stretch of an hour and a half. While not forceful, it is heavy-handed in how it builds Rose up, only to break her down to discernible character traits, instead of letting viewers come to terms with her by themselves. We are spoon fed, treated like idiots and led to conclusions. Rose feels like a creation, not a person.
However when Buckley finally starts getting to play with these faults, taking out what works and what doesn’t and look inwards to who Rose really is they begin to seem a lot more natural. The real heart of the film lies in the performers and what they can bring to life. A tale of generations, how we both bolster and break the family around us through our actions, the story gains more traction through layered work by Walters and Buckley as well as a terrific turn by an underused Sophie Okenedo. The message of coming to terms with your past to push forward for your children, to make an example for them is a touching and strong motif.
The double act between Buckley and Walters proves the films strongest charm as they push through some obvious clichés to bring out the films strongest elements. Walters embodies the struggle to avoid judgement and Buckley lives with how people perceive her, despite acting like she doesn’t. It’s delicate work worthy of much praise, the kind that rises up an ending that sings all on its own. Going against formula and shifting the tone of the film into a more mature head space. Wild Rose changes with its character but still maintains a strong sense of self.
Finding a tender soul through a soundtrack to die for, this is a rousing story that stumbles in places but never loses the idea of where it is going to end up or what it has to say thanks to a duo of performers giving it their all and a director who keeps the film flowing freely.
However the film serves more as a stepping stone for Buckley, a film that is a known quantity, a story told before, one too basic to really make the kind of waves that should be expected from the films you watch but an enjoyable little picture none the less. In terms of entertainment this is a shining star that burns brightly. It might not break barriers, you might even be able to poke holes in this admittedly fairy tale-esque story but along the way you can listen to some sublime music and have an awful lot of fun while doing so. Personally I see that as time well spent any day of the week.