Review: Wild Rose

Review: Wild Rose

by Alan Grant
article from Wednesday 17, April, 2019

Spoiler Warning: Unlike my usual style of review, this article contains significant plot spoilers for Wild Rose.

 ALLOW ME TO ASK a hypothetical question. Imagine that you are at a party and are presented with a bowl of punch and not just any punch, but a tasty, moreish, and wildly intoxicating concoction prepared by a very talented mixologist. 

You and some friends quaff this fruity elixir until there is only five per cent or so of it left.At this this point some unscrupulous cad comes along, barges you and your drinking buddies out of the way, and proceeds to urinate into the bowl.

My question, based on the additional premise that you are obliged to finish the entire bowl, is could you consider what you’ve just had to be “good punch”?

This unpleasant figure of speech sums up my feelings towards Wild Rose. It is a delicious bowl of punch that someone has taken a slash in right before we’ve all finished drinking and whether you think that ruins it as a whole will determine whether or not it is a good movie.

Wild Rose tells the story of Rose-Lynn Harlan (Jessie Buckley), a recently released ex-con and single mum with dreams of being a country music star (not “country and western” as the movie is quick to remind us) living in Glasgow. Rose-Lynn yearns to leave Scotland for Nashville in order to pursue her dreams but finds herself caught up in the struggles of family responsibilities, working, and balancing relationships. Along the way, she finds an unlikely ally in her wealthy employer Susannah (Sophie Okonedo) and clashes with the traditional working-class sensibilities of her strong-willed mother Marion (Julie Walters). 

Most of Wild Rose is really good. The casting is excellent and Jessie Buckley bringing energy, likeability, and charm to the role of Rose-Lynn. Buckley balances the wild and impatient nature of her character with the emotional range needed to carry off the stinging emotional scenes in which we see her struggling to cope. As an audience, we perch, Jiminy Cricket-like, on her shoulder at once rooting for her and wanting to give her a hug. It takes an incredibly talented actor to draw an audience in and hold their attention and compassion as Buckley does – especially given that she’s only 29-years-old. 

The supporting cast also really shows up for work in Wild Rose. Julie Walters, who has become British movie shorthand for ‘this is going to get you right in the feels’, is marvellous as Rose-Lynn’s mother. It would have been easy for a less talented performer to simply play Marion as a straight-up shrew but Walters’ reliable brilliance at conveying conflicted characters helps reflect the audience’s own scepticism of Rose-Lynn’s ambitions while also keeping her likable. We may be sitting on Rose-Lynn’s shoulder but it’s arguably Marion’s moral perspective through which we view her story. 

The plot is fairly simple but is brought mostly through an authentically Scottish sensibility that gives it a grounding. There are some really funny moments – in particular the introduction montage where Rose-Lynn leaves prison and very quickly ends up shagging her boyfriend in a park and a scene in which she dances around her employer’s home to a knee slappin’ country tune a la Robin Williams in Mrs Doubtfire – which are balanced out with some moments of real emotional weight and tension. The success here is not so much in the writing or the concept but in the direction, pacing, and wealth of acting talent Wild Rose has at its disposal. 

It would be remis of any review of a movie about a singer to omit mention of the soundtrack and the Wilde Rose soundtrack is very much worth talking about. Even if you’re not the biggest fan of country music, the soundtrack hovers between suitable and kick ass, leaning heavily towards the latter. It’s all thumping drums, hair-raising violin, and twanging guitars that go right to the heart of anyone who has ever dreamed of travelling down one of those big American highways or even just wanted to get away from where they are right now.

If you remember the opening paragraph of this review, you’re probably wondering, ‘That sounds great but when does the glug of piss end up in this so-far nice bowl of punch? All you’ve talked about is how great the punch is so far.’ Sadly, we’re now at that point!

This is your last chance to click the “x” in the top right corner and avoid a massive spoiler.

Seriously… Big spoiler ahead.

The end of Wild Rose sees Rose-Lynn finally make it to Nashville thanks to a change of heart on the part of her mother who offers to look after her children while she chases her dream. We are treated to an air-punching sequence in which Rose-Lynn makes it to the airport, gets to the USA, and sets out on her adventure and the natural ending of her rags to Levi’s story. The point is clear – if you believe in your talent and what you can achieve, then reach for the stars, go where you need to, and make it happen. It’s a “you can do it!” movie and, if it had been left there, I would have left the theatre happy that it worked.

However, at some point between getting out of the yellow cab and sneaking her way on the Grand Ole Opry for a fantasy performance, the curtain is drawn back and we see the film’s real message… which turns out to be… ugh…. 

That there’s no place like home and that no matter where you want to go in life, ‘where you’re fae’ is where you’ll be happy, and ‘East, West, hame’s best’. That’s right – Rose-Lynn goes home early to the same life she knew before. 

It’s trite, parochial, sanctimonious, and completely ruins the main thematic content of the movie in an attempt to pander to an audience who, up until that point, had been having their preconceptions gently challenged through a medium it was receptive to. Wild Rosehad the opportunity to tell those people that there is a big wide world of opportunity out there but instead chooses to bottle it and ends up doing a third-rate Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz  tribute act. The absolute nadir of the entire experience is the final song, Glasgow (No Place Like Home) which is pathetically tilted and encapsulates everything wrong with the messaging of the film’s finale.

While the preceding hour and a half or so of Wild Rose shows the best of Scottish humour, banter, and drama – the last eight minutes is us at our worst. By signalling to the audience that it doesn’t matter where you go in life you’ll never get to where you want to go if it’s away from here, the film highlights the dregs of Scottish parochialism, narrow-mindedness, defeatism, and deference to our collective ability to believe our own myths and press clippings. As a critics, I’m faced with two possible conclusions; either this is what the film is saying deliberately, in which case it’s a sinister piece of domestic propaganda, or it doesn’t know that’s what it gets across, and in so doing reducies the achievements it had made and falls back into comfortable yet pointless cultural and nationalistic onanism.

Whether or not Wild Rose can be recommended or not depends on the question contained within my analogy – can a sharp u-turn into mawkishness and sentiment at the very end of a picture ruin what is overall a positive and uplifting experience? If it can, then Wild Rose cannot come recommended without warning, if not, then go ahead, fill your glass and chug but don’t act surprised if it leaves a funny taste.

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