In ‘Wild Rose’, a Scottish Star is Born
Amid American country music’s current emphasis on painted-on jeans, ice cold beer and faux-redneck posturing, it’s easy to forget that, in part, Scottish folks songs gave birth to the genre. A new movie about a Scottish country music hopeful shouldn’t feel like a fresh arrangement on an old melody, but that’s exactly what Wild Rose is. Those fearing another standard “rise to stardom” tale need not worry.
WILD ROSE ★★★★(4/5 stars)
Directed by: Tom Harper
Written by: Nicole Taylor
Starring: Jessie Buckley, Julie Walters, Sophie Okonedo
Running time: 101 min
Less A Star Is Born and more Inside Llewyn Davis, Tom Harper’s criminally underseen Wild Rose tells the tale of young Rose-Lynn Harlan. I’m assuming her “Three chords and the truth” arm tattoo and her name refer to Harlan Howard, to whom musicologists widely attribute the “three chords” phrase. Rose is a Glasgow screwup who just wants to make it to Nashville. While there’s only one real directorial flourish and the film hits some off-tune narrative notes, Wild Rose ends up at the right place.
Rose’s life might as well be a country song. Raised by a single mother, she had two kids of her own by the time she was 18, and has just come off a year in jail for heroin possession. On her way home, ankle monitor fit snugly inside her cowboy boot, she stops off to have a quickie with her boyfriend and has one last drink before the monitor kicks in. As she returns home to her kids and her mother, she still harbors dreams of someday making it big enough in country music (Rose never calls it “country-western”) to play the Grand Ole Opry.
Jessie Buckley (Chernobyl) doesn’t shy away from showing the dark side of Rose’s character. For most of the film, she makes terrible decisions, gets drunk more than once, misses appointments with her kids, and lies to her employer about her past, all in the service of her dream. And even when she gets opportunities to achieve that dream, she goes to almost Llewyn Davis levels of self-sabotage. Harper takes an unflinching look at both Rose’s choices and the way Nashville operates as a business city, where everyone has the same dream as Rose.
Rose is the antihero this film genre needs, a type of person who actual country music doesn’t allow to flourish that much Buckley, who did all of her own singing for this movie, embodies Rose with a heart-wrenching, tender spirit evident in every scene, a voice crying out and waiting to be heard. One scene in particular, where Rose vacuums a house while imagining that the band she’s listening to in her headphones is in the room with her, stands out as a joyful expression of the music waiting to come out of her.
Speaking of performances, Julie Walters is predictably fantastic as Rose’s put-upon mother, who just wants Rose to take responsibility for her life and her children. A heartbreaking scene near the end proves why she’s one of Britain’s greatest actors.
And oh, the music. What good would a movie about country music be without great music? It brings me great pleasure to report that the soundtrack, which features covers of songs from Chris Stapleton, John Prine, Patty Griffin, Ashley McBryde (who makes a cameo) and Wynonna Judd, will make you tap your toes in the theater, even if you’re not a country music fan. If Harper had released this film two decades ago, the original song that closes the film, written by Caitlyn Smith, would be a hit single.
And in a just world, more people would see Wild Rose. Since its release, it’s made just under $800,000 domestically, while taking in more than four million overseas, according to Box Office Mojo. This is likely because Scottish film studios mostly financed the movie and marketed it as a female version of Walk the Line without the romance angle. But just like country music should take a chance on Rose, you should take a chance on this film. Sometimes underdogs deserve a break.