WILD ROSE is the feel-good movie of the year, and that’s not damning it with faint praise. There’s just so much passion in this project from start to finish, and plenty of lively crackle in the final result, it’ll leave your heart soaring.
Aspiring Glaswegian country singer Rose-Lynn Harlan (Jess Buckley) is released after a year in prison to find two young children who don’t really know her and a mother (Julie Walters) with no time for dreams. Can Rose-Lynn find a road to success in Nashville without sacrificing her family?
I remember Jesse Buckley when she was on a TV singing competition to be cast as Nancy in a new production of OLIVER! Astoundingly, she only came second. Playing the polar opposite of her previous mesmerising turn (BEAST‘s sociopathic Moll) as Rose-Lynn she’s an electrifying presence; funny, empathetic and determined, not to mention a powerhouse when singing on stage or to herself. Let’s be honest, Julie Walters could play a role like Rose-Lynn’s pragmatic working-class mother Marion in her sleep, but she’s the warmest, most loving obstacle to success Rose-Lynn could hope for. There’s this great shot early in the film where Marion leaves Rose-Lynn alone with her children for the first time shortly after her release from prison and all three of them give her exactly the same terrified and bewildered expression. They don’t know the first thing about each other and none of them are in a place to start now.
This the latest in a long line of highly affecting musicals-that-aren’t-really-musicals. THE COMMITMENTS, ONCE, last year’s HEARTS BEAT LOUD. They’re all about the frustrations of the creative process, how you’d give it your all and be worth remembering if you were just given that chance, and if real life stops intruding for a stretch. Rose-Lynn’s story is of coming-of-age as well as breaking through in the right circles; she has to grow up and take responsibility at home before she can find her dream out in the world.
We’ve had films about talented artists trying to strike a difficult balance with their personal lives, but they’re rarely presented thus matter-of-factly. Every time you think everything’s lining up too neatly and we’re in dreamland territory something will bring you crashing back to the tarmac. Rose-Lynn getting her big break then losing all her belongings on the way to London is the least distressing of these, and her unflinching honesty (to everyone but herself) always keeps it real.
The film has, for me, the line of dialogue of the year so far, summing up how Rose-Lynn saw herself before and after her spell in prison: “I wasn’t an outlaw, I was a fanny”. The world would be a better place if a few more people would admit to that.
There’s a touch of magical realism to Rose-Lynn’s journey, exemplified by her impromptu performance while vacuuming her employer’s mansion as an imaginary band appears from behind furniture to back her. Rose-Lynn seems to be listening to her own future performances in her ever-present headphones even before her breakthrough; indeed it is Buckley performing this glossy, fully produced covers of country music classics (on a loop in my house since I saw the film). She has always known where she wants to be, just not how to get there.
I don’t think I ever thought I’d see a fade between blue-skyed Nashville and grey-skyed Glasgow, but here it is towards the end of this film, and it’s effective. Rose-Lynn’s eventual, perhaps inevitable homecoming isn’t even all-that bittersweet, because she’s coming back for all the right reasons, stronger and wiser. Wild Rose is a towering achievement that strikes just the right balance, a hopeful, heartfelt sort-of-musical with both feet planted firmly on the ground, and further proof that Jesse Buckley is a born star. SSP