Film Review: ‘Wild Rose’ Is A Moving Musical With A Twist

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Superheroes and reboots have dominated the box office this year, but if anything can cut through the noise, it’s Tom Harper’s Wild Rose. A country musical set in Scotland (yes, you read that correctly), the feel-good film has been winning over critics and movie-goers alike since premiering at TIFF in 2018. Not only is Wild Rose hugely entertaining on its own merits, the timing is also right. Blockbuster hits like A Star Is Born and Bohemian Rhapsody have reinvigorated the movie musical, sparking a demand for more.

And Wild Rose has what it takes to stand out. While a down-on-their-luck singer pursuing stardom is a familiar trope at this point (think Danielle Macdonald in Patti Cake$ or Elle Fanning in the recent Teen Spirit), what separates Wild Rose is the whiff of realism that clings to every frame of the film. It also boasts a unique twist, and a searing performance from Jessie Buckley as the titular character. This could be the role that makes her a genuine movie star.

The film begins with our flame-haired protagonist storming out of a Glaswegian prison in full cowgirl regalia. After a celebratory shag, she returns home to her unimpressed mother (a feisty Julie Waters) and equally dismayed children. While Rose struggles to find much enthusiasm for motherhood, she is utterly possessed by country music. It is her religion and she dreams of making it big in Nashville. And, as the regulars at her local country bar know only too well, Rose has the talent. What she’s lacking is money and a champion.

She finds both in Susannah (an impeccable Sophie Okonedo). Rose takes a job as the do-gooder’s house cleaner, but exhibits minimal interest and less aptitude. However, when Susannah hears her new employee sing, she lines up a meeting with BBC Radio 2 legend Bob Harris and encourages Rose to pursue her dreams. In some ways, she becomes a little too invested. With the best of intentions, the kindly patron comes up with a scheme to crowdfund Rose’s trip to Nashville. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite go to plan.

As usual, Rose is hampered by bad decision-making and worse luck. Disaster seems to follow our heroine wherever she goes, which results in her admitting defeat and embracing family life. Only, her mother can see that the light has faded from Rose’s eyes and she comes to the rescue. In a Hollywood production, Rose would be discovered and find overnight fame. But Tom Harper has more respect for the character and his audience than that. Instead, she gets a different kind of happy ending. One that is more emotionally devastating because of its plausibility.

Wild Rose wouldn’t work with the genius of Jessie Buckley, who was completely unfamiliar with country music before accepting the role. She embodies Rose wholeheartedly, transforming what could have been a cliché into flesh and bone. The character’s foibles and flaws endear her to us. She might be a mess, but she’s a beautiful one with a passion for life that is contagious. A musical is also only as good as its soundtrack and Wild Rose serves up a heady mix of covers (Emmylou Harris, Wynonna Judd and Patty Griffin among others) and original songs. The final ballad, “Glasgow (No Place Like Home),” is particularly great.

If you’re looking to discover a completely new music scene, fall in love with a complex character and get lost in a different kind of Cinderella story, Wild Rose is essential viewing.

Rating: 4/5

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