REVIEW: Wild Rose [2019]

Rating: 8 out of 10.
  • Rating: R | Runtime: 100 minutes
    Release Date: April 12th, 2019 (UK)
    Studio: Entertainment One / Neon
    Director(s): Tom Harper
    Writer(s): Nicole Taylor

What do you need to say?

These movies usually start with the music and attempt to find happiness afterwards. That’s the order you need for the fantasy of artistic superstardom to work—that talent is enough to earn everything you’ve ever wanted and therefore the foundation for what’s still to come. That’s not the real world, though. Maybe some people are plucked from obscurity like in A Star Is Born. Maybe some do reach great heights via contests a la Teen Spirit. But what about those dreamers who come to the realization and courage necessary to take his/her shot late, whether it be age, life progression, or era? What is a twenty-something country singer from Glasgow, Scotland who just got out of prison with two kids and a realist mother waiting supposed to do?

The answer is obvious: struggle. Struggle to balance lofty aspirations with a pragmatic present. Struggle to stay afloat financially and somehow discover unlikely avenues towards meeting the people with power to give her a shot. Struggle to live for her future and those who rely upon her whether she’s ready to acknowledge that truth or not. Struggle to understand ego and praise built from a no-name bar in the United Kingdom doesn’t automatically equate with the ability to survive on an international scale. I’m talking about true dramatic uncertainty we all must confront in our lives projected upon the one-in-a-million shot trajectory of celebrity rather than the other way around. As a mentor tells Rose-Lynn (Jessie Buckley) during Wild Rose, a great voice still needs something to say.

Screenwriter Nicole Taylor hasn’t therefore created just another underdog story for teens to grab hold of and believe it could happen to them. She’s instead written a woman who’s gone down problematic paths and continues to gravitate towards traveling down them again. The music is secondary—a vocation that affords luxury to someone who’s never had the privilege of knowing how luxury feels. It’s the temptation threatening to take her hand and lead her astray from family, responsibilities, and mental wellbeing because it proves as much an easy escape as excuse to selfishly self-destruct when things don’t work out. Rose-Lynn is thus engaged in a tug-of-war between the life she’s always wanted and that which she regrets creating. Choosing one above the other will only guarantee more heartache.

Happiness lies in compromise and discovering that doing so will be more difficult than anything she’s ever done. Why? Because she’ll constantly risk the depression of never fulfilling her God-given gift’s promise while also diffusing the ire of children who know they’ve been a distant second to that dream. Leaving Wynonna (Daisy Littlefield) and Lyle (Adam Mitchell) in the care of her mom (Julie Walters‘ Marion) would conversely be easy—especially if Rose-Lynn were drunk and high on the thrill of Nashville’s wonders, ignorant to the reality that thousands like her were attempting the same. Giving up her dream for those kids would be easier too as resentment filled the void neither success nor failure would. Dealing with the highs and lows of both simultaneously? That’s real work.

It’s also why Taylor and director Tom Harper‘s film moves beyond simple tropes to ask Rose-Lynn to grow-up. They make Rose-Lynn’s prospective benefactor (Sophie Okonedo‘s Susannah) a window into the future to do so. While she didn’t have the same dream, she did have a similar youthful lifestyle of parties and excitement. But now Susannah has two kids and a “boring” life by comparison that’s pushed those desires to the background. Where she chose this evolution with open eyes, however, Rose-Lynn sees the result as a virtual prison considering her own foray into motherhood “stole” her freedom. And despite this woman (her boss) seeming to vicariously fuel Rose-Lynn’s dream while Marion stifles it, they both care for the young singer deeply. One simply doesn’t have all the information.

Susannah only sees who Rose-Lynn can become because she’s unaware of the children that will be left behind. Marion only sees the heartbreak of those two kids because they are real and guaranteed whereas success and fortune is not. What then is Rose-Lynn to do when the former inexplicably helps get her foot in the door she’s tried and failed to open since she was fourteen years old? Does she run through it and ostensibly close the one that protects little Wynonna and Lyle; close it and dedicate herself to making her girl and boy’s futures her own; or find a way to leave each ajar so she may work on both? If Rose-Lynn admits that the consequences of her mistakes can make her stronger, anything is possible.

This is where having something to say comes in because her best shot at making it is realizing what she has rather than what she wants. Maybe that means following her dream and damaging relationships to know the latter matter more or maybe it means embracing the aforementioned struggle as a challenge rather than defeat. Music doesn’t therefore erase her past—it helps process it. Her voice resonates because of what she’s endured, not what she seeks to avoid. That’s the real lesson we should be teaching our kids because they need to learn to take responsibility instead of shirking it. And Buckley delivers a performance that embodies this authenticity whether through her unbridled spark of independence or feelings of inadequacy when reconciling her love for her children.

Watching her engage with the two halves of the person she might become (Susannah fostering fantasies and Marion knowing when to cut them loose) is invigorating and poignant because neither is infallible. They’re pushing Rose-Lynn in seemingly opposite directions and yet their hopes couldn’t be more aligned. It’s great seeing Okonedo in a film role that lets her talents shine and Walters steals the show as the mother doing her best to help Rose-Lynn understand she’s already created something her singing could never match. Their love (tough or otherwise) allows her to see what her children need from her and recognizing that ultimately makes her dreams more attainable. Success may take longer, but it’ll be earned and shared. Music alone can’t save her, but her music just might.

[1] Rose-Lynn Harlan (Jessie Buckley) in WILD ROSE. Courtesy of NEON
[2] Marion (Julie Walters) and Rose-Lynn Harlan (Jessie Buckley) in WILD ROSE. Courtesy of NEON
[3] Rose-Lynn Harlan (Jessie Buckley) in WILD ROSE. Courtesy of NEON

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