2019, R, 101 min. Directed by Tom Harper. Starring Jessie Buckley, Julie Walters, Sophie Okonedo, James Harkness, Craig Parkinson, Jamie Sives, Daisy Littlefield, Adam Mitchell.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., July 12, 2019
It’s barely 10 minutes into the film, and Rose-Lynn Harlan (a star-is-born Buckley) has already blown through Wild Rose like a hellcat in a white fringe-sleeved jacket and cowboy boots, raising a ruckus wherever she goes with little regret for the consequences. Saluting her fellow inmates with a raised fist and throaty “Fuuuuuuuuck!” as she’s released from prison, Rose-Lynn celebrates her freedom in short order by shagging an old boyfriend in broad daylight and then physically assaulting the manager of a local musical venue who refuses to rehire an ex-convict as a singer. As her just-ended incarceration indicates, this troublemaker has a knack for making bad choices. The homecoming also includes an obligatory appearance at the flat where her mother (Walters, beautifully restrained here) and two young children (Littlefield and Mitchell) live. There, she goes through the motions of pretending to be a dutiful daughter and parent when her focus is concentrated on only one thing: going to America to sing at the Grand Ole Opry and become a country music star. As far as movie dreams go, it’s not an extraordinary career goal, unless you happen to live in the bonnie land of Scotland, where people speak in a sing-song brogue and most have no clue who Hank Williams or Patsy Cline is.
Like many movies journeying a thorny path to redemption, Wild Rose touches upon familiar themes as Rose-Lynn struggles to figure out who she wants to be. Family life or professional success? Personal freedom or responsibility? Getting your shit together or spinning in circles with nowhere to go? As Rose-Lynn discovers, only the last one is truly an either/or question. Interestingly, you can chart this confused young woman’s maturation in the way she smiles. An initial swaggering smirk eventually melts into an uncertain half-grin, finally graduating to an expression of authentic joy. The movie is like an old honky-tonk song, a little sentimental but full of heart. It torches and twangs without getting too hokey.
Buckley is an unexpected double threat here. Not only does she live the role of Rose-Lynn inside and out, she also sings it like Chrissie, Reba, Bonnie, and Janis all rolled up into one. Is it sexist to say this gal’s got an incredible set of pipes? (I hope not.) After a trip to Nashville opens her eyes about the truth of her ambitions – and yes, she finally sings at the Opry, in a fashion – Rose-Lynn returns to her hometown to triumphantly command another stage and perform the hell out of a song called “Glasgow” (written by actress Mary Steenburgen!), which features a lyric buried in our collective unconscious: “Ain’t no place like home.” It’s a well-earned celebratory moment for Rose-Lynn, one full of jubilant emotion. Just click your heels three times, and go there with her.