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Film Review: Wild Rose

14 April 19 words: Gemma Finch

Tom Harper's story of a young Glaswegian girl's county music dreams hits a bum note...

Director: Tom Harper

Starring: Julie Walters, Jessie Buckley, Craig Parkinson

Running time: 100 mins

Wild Rose tells the story of Glaswegian Rose-Lynn Harlan (Jessie Buckley). Recently released from a 12-month stint behind bars for throwing a bag of heroine into a prison, she rejoins her two children and mother (Julie Walters) in Glasgow, Scotland. Putting the practicalities of rebuilding her life aside now that she must look after her children herself, Rose-Lynn has one focus only, to go to Nashville, Tennessee - the home of country music - to kick start her career as a country singer. What results is a film that does not adequately dwell on the genre it relies on, nor the inner redemption of the titular character, which results in a more of a ‘huh?’ feeling, than a feel good film. For a country music fan such as myself, the film is watchable, but the main character's arc of redemption is far too shallow for a true feel-good vibe, with the resulting grittiness making Wild Rose neither one thing nor the other. 
Rose-Lynn is foul-mouthed and blunt, and this, coupled with her complete unreliability and casual demeanour towards everyone around her (even those who encourage her dream) make Rose-Lynn difficult to warm to, despite her actions being amusing at times. When she sings, however, she comes across as someone who is emotionally intelligent and thoughtful, yet she never truly seems to fully and convincingly demonstrate these traits within her personality, which is why the whole film is tonally rather bizarre. 
Most unfortunately, the country music genre is not adequately explored, and as a result the film's visual and aural landscape feels less than vibrant. The occasional country song is played over the film as she listens to the music on the bus, but this technique feels uninspired and limp. Wild Rose should have you itching to get on YouTube after the film and watch the country greats, but it does not.
Julie Walters is on top form as ever, and is a strong presence of the film as Rose-Lynn's mother
Similar films like Geremy Jasper's Patti Cake$ introduce you to, and immerse you within, the world of rap music through constant attention to performers and reiterating the title character's love of the music, whereas Wild Rose is far more understated - while Rose-Lynn is restricted by the grey and uninspiring setting of Glasgow, the use of flashbacks to her discovery of country music could improve things. One scene that does understand the need for musical flair comes when Rose-Lynn is hoovering a house at her cleaning job whilst singing enthusiastically to the music she has on her headphones, only for the two children to return to their home from school and witness, to her embarrassment. As it stands, the film makes her all consuming love of the genre seem not just unusual, but unexplained, and therefore her emotional neglect of her children as she shirks her responsibilities seem unjustified beyond all doubt. This leads to the character being unlikable overall, rather than being characterised as the endearing, rough around the edges, working class hero that was likely intended.
Julie Walters is on top form as ever, and is a strong presence of the film as Rose-Lynn's mother. Walters' dialogue solely solidifies the film's intended narrative by providing cautionary advice to her daughter - her children should be her priority, rather than her dream of becoming a country singer, or risk losing their love. This warning however is not as strongly intwined in the film itself, as Rose-Lynn doesn't have a convincing moment of betterment. One thing that is clear is Rose-Lynn's dream to go to Nashville, and she acts terribly as a mother in order to reach this aim, solidifying its importance in her life. Yet when she is given two chances to get closer to this dream, she inexplicably turns her back on both opportunities without us really seeing on screen what it is exactly that makes her change her mind, in terms of what her thoughts are. I was left assuming she has internally re-assessed her priorities but dissatisfied that she has done so based on what I had seen. 
Rose-Lynn has a tattoo which proclaims the words which define country music to her: "three chords and the truth". She purposefully hides her criminal past and the fact that she has children from her employer Susannah (Sophie Okonedo) whose house she cleans, and continues to deceive her when she discovers and encourages her talent. The message of the film does seem to suggest she was not adhering to the tattoo’s definition, and only when she accepts her own situation as her truth, can she use it to fuel her country singer dream. The final scene blind-sighted me, as how it came to fruition was not shown. It is a musical milestone in Rose-Lynn’s journey and perhaps should have been depicted.
Some moving scenes of singing did the film some favours but the emotion evoked was not from sympathising with Rose-Lynn, as she was singing other people’s songs while she continued acting selfishly. When she did come to realise her truth - the reality of her own life - it was too little too late for all to be forgiven. 

Did you know? The film premiered at TIFF in Toronto in 2018

Wild Rose is screening at Broadway Cinema until Thursday 18 April

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