In a genre that seems to be quite of the moment, count Wild Rose as the latest entry into films about female musicians searching for themselves, stardom, love…and sometimes all of the above. From A Star is Born to Her Smell and more, there’s apparently a lot a woman can do with a microphone and a dream.
The first feature film written by Glasgow native Nicole Taylor (who boasts a strong resume in television), the film centers around Rose-Lynn Harman (Jessie Buckley, also now appearing in “Chernobyl”), her lifelong love of country music and her long-shot dream of becoming a star. Long shot, to say the least, as we meet Rose-Lynn as she’s being released from prison and being fitted for an ankle monitor that will keep her at home from sun-down to sun-up, making returning to her gigs at the local country music club next to impossible.
Instead, she finds work as a “daily woman” (that’s a maid, for us Americans) at the house of a well-to-do family while navigating a bumpy return home to her own mother (Julie Walters) and two children—son Lyle (Adam Mitchell) and daughter Wynonna (Daisy Littlefield). (Note the names…she really loves country music.) At risk of (and perhaps interested in) falling into the same old habits with the same old people, Rose is keenly aware that everyone around her expects her to amount to not much at all. She’s torn between the well-worn path ahead of her—the daily grind of small-town existence, the small stage of the local country bar—and the dream of something more, a metaphorical fork in the road where the decision on which way to go isn’t always clear. She’s a woman with ambition, a daughter with emotional baggage, a mother with responsibilities, a convicted criminal with a record…most of the film is dedicated to watching Rose figure out how to reconcile all these various identities within herself.
And Buckley makes that exploration worth watching, as vulnerable as she is fierce, with an incredible voice to boot. When her employer Susannah (Sophie Okonedo) learns of Rose’s talent, she sets in motion a series of events that send Rose on path towards success she’s not entirely sure she deserves or can handle. Intended or not, it’s a stark statement on privilege. Susannah sends her kids to private school and throws lavish birthday parties in her back yard; the pursuit of one’s own happiness is simply a given in her world. Not so for Rose, who’ll have to do some bargaining and deceiving (well intentioned as it may be) to follow the breadcrumbs Susannah has placed on this particular path. Even with all the doors opening in front of her, she’s still a woman mid-evolution; she self-sabatoges, she makes stupid decisions that, in the moment, come easier than the smart ones.
Directed by Tom Harper, who’s also worked mainly in television, Wild Rose manages the pacing that the other music-centric release this week, Danny Boyle’s Yesterday, gets wrong. Instead of trying to take us from zero to 60 in an hour and forty minutes, Wild Rose focuses on Rose’s journey and her delicate relationships as she takes one rung of the stardom ladder at a time. It’s this focus that makes the pay off (no spoilers) all the sweeter; we’re able to invest enough in Rose to really root for her—not just for success on stage, but more generally as a mom reconnecting with her kids and as a woman getting a fresh start after some bad choices.
Structurally speaking, there’s a lot to Wild Rose that fits the formula of a rags-to-riches success story. As with anything, knowing all the rules makes them that much easier to break, and here Harper and Taylor have fun infusing what could’ve been a cookie-cutter film with personality and heart, thanks in no small part to Jessie Buckley’s star-making turn at the center of it.