- Wild Rose
- Directed by: Tom Harper
- Written by: Nicole Taylor
- Starring: Jessie Buckley, Sophie Okonedo and Julie Walters
- Classification: R; 100 minutes
Even as a film critic, I won’t pretend to understand all there is to know about the world of movie distribution. On my best days, I like to think that I have a 67-per-cent idea of the intricacies as to why, say, a drama about infidelity and intergenerational guilt in 1950s Connecticut has a better chance of opening in the late fall than Memorial Day weekend. But when it comes to the new musical drama Wild Rose, I can say with 100-per-cent certainty that Neon and E1, the distributors behind the film’s North American release, are dead wrong in opening the movie now.
Wild Rose is not a film meant for the middle of June. It is not a film meant for those seeking relief from hot summer days, or even for those looking for counterprogramming to the big deadly summer blockbusters. It is not a film that deserves to die in the early days of the season, which it almost certainly will going up against Toy Story 4 this weekend and Spider-Man: Far From Home the next.
Wild Rose is a film that gives birth to a brand new star named Jessie Buckley, and she absolutely deserves all of your undivided, not-remotely-built-for-plus-30-degree attention. This is an awards-season-primed performance if I’ve ever seen one, and I can only hope that Neon and E1 have some stealthy For Your Consideration campaign and rerelease strategies lined up for Buckley in a few months’ time, when everybody will be anxiously looking for the next big thing only to realize that she has already come and gone.
Buckley’s personal journey toward Wild Rose is a compelling one itself, with the Irish actress making a name for herself on BBC’s I’d Do Anything talent contest. From there, she went on to star on the West End before nabbing roles in a spate of BBC miniseries and larger jobs in film (2017 festival favourite Beast) and high-profile TV series (HBO’s Chernobyl). Buckley’s rise is almost as intriguing an arc as the one her character receives in Wild Rose.
Here, she’s Rose-Lynn, a charismatic ne’er-do-well who longs to grace the stages of Nashville, and she has the knock-em-dead voice to actually maybe kinda possibly get her there. The only problem: She’s a single mother to two young kids. And she can’t afford a way out of the country music-averse Glasgow. And she’s a drunk. Oh, and she just got out of prison for drug trafficking.
These obstacles, almost comically piled upon one another, add up to a drama that’s half predictable and half pandering. Yet somehow director Tom Harper makes it all even out, mostly by focusing on Buckley as much as possible. Rose-Lynn may be a mess constantly at risk of violating her parole conditions and pushing away her already estranged mother (Julie Walters), but Buckley makes the Grand Ole Opry wannabe a character worth rooting for. It is a tricky conjuring act for the actress, especially when the film forces her character into a working-mother conundrum that feels both slick and insulting. But, again, all of the film’s many dramatic contortions are easy to ignore whenever Buckley is onscreen, especially when Harper captures her belting out original songs with her own voice (lest you think this was some sort of Bohemian Rhapsody-esque con job).
Last year, there was an inkling that summer 2019 may not have always been the plan for Wild Rose. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this past September, and it gathered enough buzz for itself, and especially Buckley, to lift it to a prestige fall slot. For whatever reason, though, we’re watching Buckley electrify the screen today. May her voice rattle in your head for the rest of the year.
Wild Rose opens Friday in Toronto before expanding to other Canadian cities on July 5.
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