Updated: Feb 9, 2020
Stories about people trying to find themselves or find redemption through music are surprisingly prevalent. Whether it is a biopic or fictional story, they are so common it can be a challenge for one to make an impact. Wild Rose, about a young woman from Glasgow who dreams of making it as a country singer, definitely made an impact on me. It is a moving story of someone unhappy with where life has taken them, desperate to become something bigger, while stubbornly ignoring what they have already left behind. It is powerful, convincingly written and features one of the best performances of the year from its lead. I was getting pretty tired of movies about aspiring singers, but I will gladly sit through ten more just to get one this good.
As the movie begins, Rose-Lynn is getting released after a year in prison. She immediately wants to resume her singing career, with the goal of making it to Nashville. However, she also has a responsibility to her two young children who have been staying with her no-nonsense mother. Is she mature enough to be a mother? Can she pursue music while still being there for her kids? Instead of just focusing on music, Wild Rose is actually interested in watching Rose-Lynn as she figures out those answers for herself.
This is not a formulaic narrative. It takes place in an area that barely has what could even charitably be called a country music scene. There is no obvious path to fame. This is not a fairy tale about a small town singer being discovered. It is about someone who has made a lot of bad choices at a young age learning who they are and what is most important to them. Country music is just the lens through which this story is told. It is a character study that watches this woman, without judgement, as she tries to restart her life in the direction she has always hoped for.
Before this, the only movie I had seen Jessie Buckley in was Beast, where she plays an unhappy young woman who becomes infatuated with the suspect in a string of murders. She was very good. She is even more impressive in Wild Rose as the energetic, willful, scared Rose-Lynn. Playing a woman who had two kids before she turned eighteen, she projects an outward confidence in her decisions, but a closer look reveals a child ashamed of her mistakes, with no idea how to make up for them. Rose-Lynne is still in her early twenties, so Buckley shows the irresponsible child in her clashing with the conflicted adult.
She is fantastic in the scenes where she sings, really coming alive and shedding all her anxieties. Regardless of if she is onstage in front of an audience or by herself, she is most free when totally absorbed in her music. Buckley makes it clear where her heart is. But it is in the quieter sequences where she truly shines. She plays her realizations on her face with such delicacy. Director Tom Harper gives her time to show as opposed to always telling. The moments where she looks at her children as they sleep or watch TV are as memorable as when she wows people with her voice. She is both fiery and vulnerable. It is a really strong performance that makes the movie worth seeing all by itself.
Luckily, Wild Rose (96 minutes, without the end credits) has more to offer than just Jessie Buckley. The screenplay takes what seems like a familiar narrative and sets off on a more honest and unpredictable course. Rose-Lynn is a compelling character even apart from the performance. It has music, but the scenes where she sings are about more than the songs. It is a rewarding coming-of-age redemption tale that takes a different route to a destination you may not entirely expect. I came in assuming I would be getting one thing, instead I got something much, much better.
4½ out of 5
Jessie Buckley as Rose-Lynn
Julie Walters as Marion
Sophie Okonedo as Susannah
Adam Mitchell as Lyle
Daisy Littlefield as Wynonna
Jamie Sives as Sam
Directed by Tom Harper
Written by Nicole Taylor