I am in a quandary. Wild Rose is a study of a headstrong, fiesty, fiery young woman, a whirlwind of energy nowhere for it to go, and it is set in Glasgow, but it is so burdened with banal dialogue and emotional cliche I find it hard to rescue it for a top star rating.
Worse, I dislike country music, and country and western music too, both of which I think whimsical, whiny, and commercially suspect. The joke about winding a country song backwards and getting your life, home, husband and dog back, has a lot to say about that genre’s lyrics.
The biggest asset the film has is the star lead, and what a lead she is, the County Derry born actress and singer Jessie Buckley. Indeed, I suspect the entire construction was built around her very existence for she dominates every scene she is in. Without her we would be left with a highly derivative piece of work, the talented individual held back by domestic responsibilities, outrageous behaviour and dumb, unworldly relatives.
Wild Rose is Billy Elliott without the ballet dancing, it is Lost in Translation without the annoying introspection, Fighting With My Family without a WWB wrestling ring, Lady Macbeth without an instinct for murder, Florida Project without the palm trees or auter at its helm, and David Leland’s 1985 break out film for the engaging Emily Lloyd, Wish You Were Here. In fact, Wish You Were here is Wild Rose but without country music. So, all in all, a female-driven story about a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, but a film offering a made-to-measure role for a truly talented singer-actress.
Buckley plays a hard living, hard drinking ‘n spitting, schemie dwelling libertine, Rose- Lyn Harlan, the girl who takes life as it comes, and yet cannot get her own in order. She eats men for breakfast, flushed down with a can of lager. What holds her back from attaining her dream to be a country singer in Nashville is her morose infant daughter and talkative son. We are never told who the father is, he never appears and the children never grieve for not having one. She’s a two-time loser who had unprotected sex.
The children are only ever seen eating breakfast, lunch or dinner, reading or playing with a toy, and mostly hustled out the house by concientious granny. We never follow them for a moment to see what makes them tick and how they relate to each other. This is a serious weakness in a film about a mother and her brood.
Critics have made a lot of noise about the various celebrity cameos dropped into the storyline, notable the BBC’s sadly aging Bob ‘Whispering’ Harris, but diplomatically they miss out Julie Walters, who, with a passable Glaswegian accent, is just another visiting British celebrity.
Walters plays the stubborn mother as a prim ‘n proper buttoned-up, husbandless granny. Rose’s children are dumped on her for days on end – an entire year while Rose is in prison on a drugs charge – yet she manages to feed herself and the children on a state pension and get them to school on time without a car. She has money squirreled away, insurance from a dead hsuband perhaps, enough to send Rose to Nashville on a character transforming walkabout, seen it all before, sequence.
Experience tells me the investors demanded one ‘star’ name to get bums on seats, an error in a film set in the schemies where almost everybody else is an unknown. Walters does her best, and her best is good, but you just know her concern for the welfare of Rose’s children is a one-note psychology, and that in time she will come around to the oh-so obvious talent exuded by her daughter. (Not a spoiler. You know it from the start.)
If anybody should have been playing Rose’s mother it is our own Janey Godley. She has a bit part as the classic barmaid in Glasgow’s Old Oprey bar (or bartender as the non-gender PC will have it). As soon as Godley is on screen with Buckley she is a match for Buckley despite having few lines. Her angry character would make a lot more sense as Marion, mother to angry Rose, than Walters’ blue rinse interpretation.
I was sorry to see so little of Godley. I trust some television type has noted her ability and is penning a sit-com for her as I write!
Walters is the only substantial character, way ahead of Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), a middle class lady who owns a big red sandstone house with a big garden and a ton of friends she can invite to them. She employs Rose as house cleaner, soon inspired by Rose’s ‘force of nature’ personality and ability to crack window panes with her singing range. In the background, however, lurks a suspicious husband who runs a Range Rover to show us he is a man with social connections. The entire Susannah scenes are wierdly implausible, something that belongs to a film set in London not Bearsden.
The blame for the many oddities in relationships, and howlers – we don’t have water bills from the council in Scotland – lies on the desk of screenwriter Nicole Taylor (TV’s Three Girls), who seems unable to raise the drama beyond soap.
Too often she resorts to scenes where Rose is asked to weep but not wail, a self-pitying streak that almost had me want to slap her on the arm and tell her to pull up her socks! (“A woman needs a slap now and then.” (c) Connery.) I apologise for that slip of mysogny. The writer misses the obvious, a story of colonial rule where a Scots girl like many a Scot has lost touch with her cultural roots, so much so that she identifies with hillbilly banality, square dancing, and wears cowboy boots. And yes, I met a few in my years teaching in Glasgow. They even talk with an American drawl.
There are moments the emotion runs true, moments I recognised from my own life, Rose’s profound need to be a good parent is the best example, to desire the love and respect of her children, but that gets rammed home with a sledge hammer. We learn nothing new about the human condition in an urban setting.
If you like country music you’ll praise Buckley who co-wrote several of the original songs with Taylor, and captivates with Rose-Lynn’s fallibility, soul-shaking voice and gumption. Unfortunately, as I mention earlier, the narrative tends toward the predictable as it strives to deliver a satisfying happy ending, and that trips up the drama at every turn. Only the depth and determination of its leading lady sets it apart.
Some films build themselves around a central performance that you can’t imagine them existing without their star. Wild Rose is that film. Director Tom Harper’s crowd pleaser alternately attracts and disappoints but in the end you give in to Buckley’s tidal wave of talent and leave the cinema feeling you didn’t waste time or money, but it’s a close run thing. Without Buckley I’d have awarded it two stars.
One other point, (besides all the men being wimps) the three stills shown here are all I could find. Did the budget not stretch to a publicity photographer on the set?
- Star Rating: Three stars
- Cast: Jessie Buckley, Julie Walters, Sophie Okonedo
- Director: Tom Harper
- Writer: Nicole Taylor
- Cinematographer: George Steel
- Composer: Jack Arnold
- Duration: 1 hour 40 minutes
- RATING CRITERIA
- 5 plus: potential classic, innovative. 5: outstanding. 4: excellent. 3.5: excellent but flawed. 3: good if formulaic. 2: straight to DVD. 1: crap; why did they bother?