Wild Rose (2018)

Directed by Tom Harper

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A young Glasgow woman dreams of making it as a country star in Wild Rose.  She is Rose-Lynn (Jessie Buckley), and she’s not like every other wide-eyed fame-minded heroine you see in stories such as this.  When we first meet her she is being released from prison, though she maintains a bubbly, even manic confidence.  Her first stop before coming home is her boyfriend’s flat for a few hours and a couple beers before she heads home, to see her two children.

Rose-Lynn’s dreams of Nashville glory compete with her struggle to remain nearby for her children’s well-being.  They are more like distant cousins you meet for the first time at a family reunion.  When Rose-Lynn is near she seems incapable of holding a conversation with them or of relating to them on any level.  The children have been living with Rose-Lynn’s mother, Marion (Julie Walters), who presents a much different combination of warmth and stern love.

To pursue any kind of glory is to be a bit selfish, but only in socially acceptable ways.  It’s a very American dream, to give all you’ve got in the name of stardom, and Rose-Lynn will speak to this, saying she may have been born in Glasgow but she’s an American at heart.  Another ally formed over the course of the story, Susannah (Sophie Okonedo) admires Rose-Lynn’s spirit and says the rules of the game change when you have kids, a truth about Rose-Lynn she hasn’t yet learned.

So by calling attention to the children, and their needs do conflict with Rose-Lynn’s, the film makes us understand how detrimental her dream may be, at least the pursuit of that dream.  It’s a dynamic that necessitates an ending a little more nuanced than something from a movie in which the character simply comes out victorious.  To be victorious in one arena Rose-Lynn won’t be so victorious in another.

It’s a balance the film manages to pull off, thanks in large part to Jessie Buckley’s performance.  Rose-Lynn is easy to like but so too is she easy to be weary of.  On her first day out of prison one of the stops she makes is at the Glasgow Grand ‘Ol Opry, hopeful to get her old job back.  She doesn’t, mostly due to an ankle bracelet that prevents her from being out late at night, and her first response is to assault those who would deny her what she wants.

She is angry, very angry.  It’s not so much that she enjoys country music and wishes to join that conversation but that she needs it.  It’s who she thinks she is, it’s something she must do, and it’s something she must be recognized for.  And I think those are all somewhat negative qualities.  Her pursuit of her goal is selfish and yet quite understandable.  It’s a fire within she can’t yet extinguish, and it’s more of a compulsion than a passion.

This is a sort of coming of age film, for a character with a delayed adolescence even as two pregnancies have presumably forced her to grow up quickly.  We know, because of the conflict between her dreams and her responsibilities, that she she will find a different kind of catharsis, one that balances these two things.  And she does, and it feels earned.

It’s an ending that is no less grand than what you expect from a story like this (it’s gotta be big and rousing), but it feels unique, at least because it’s unique to Rose-Lynn.  There’s a line somewhere in the film, probably a song lyric, in which one character says that happiness comes from within, which is of course true.  As far as I recall it’s a line sung by Rose-Lynn even as she seems oblivious to its truth.  She has repeated (and has tattooed on her body) the line that country is “three chords and the truth” and yet in this moment the truth escapes her.  In time it’ll find her, and that’s when the film gets its earned finale.

So Wild Rose is a story that’s already been told, but it’s a story that’s unafraid to show what a person might risk in the pursuit of glory.  Characters are stepped over and shoved aside, and the weight of such a thing slowly weighs on our main character.  Her pursuit is at times an ugly thing, and she’s a character free from screenwriting tropes focus group testing.  The thing that makes her succeed in one area hurts her in another, and I can only wish every film had such human characters.

Because look, we’re all great, and we all suck, right?  You’re excellent at one thing and terrible at another, and sometimes these qualities are only magnified in certain situations.  Granted I’ve just seen this film so that’s why it’s on my mind, but in Howard Hawks’ Red River (1948) John Wayne plays a self-made man, a future business tycoon who is downright amazing at, well, making himself successful.  And at the same time he is so used to sticking to his guns that he can’t take feedback, he can’t course correct on the fly, and in the course of a mission slowly going wrong the men working for him orchestrate a bit of a mutiny and turn him into a vengeful old cowboy.  He’s great at one thing and terrible at another.

So I’m drawn to any film that can successfully convey the shades of gray in a single character.  These nuances and internal conflict suggest that the thing we battle most of all is ourself.  For Rose-Lynn it’s a kind of addiction.

The finale of Wild Rose may be slightly improbable, at least a little sentimental and simplistic, but I think it speaks to something honest.  Rose-Lynn has to pursue this thing before she can let it go.  She has to engage with it to some degree before transforming into whoever she will become next.

Up Next: Asako I & II (2018), Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987), The Last Metro (1980)

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