Courtesy of NEON
An overtold plot device gets injected with a refreshing and unexpected twist: Jessie Buckley. Tom Harper’s out of nowhere sensation “Wild Rose” is a rags-to-riches story following Buckley’s offbeat Rose Lynn Harlan, an ex-con country singer from Glasgow and her journey to fame as a prominent and aspiring singer in the country industry. How often do you see a film about a bruting and busty irish gal trying to make ends meet as a country singer?
Sure, the aspiring artist looking for their big break is a familiar tale, but those tales were never elevated by Buckley’s incredible performance as Rose Lynn. Her story begins on her last day of prison, leaving with a new focus and outlook on life and an ankle bracelet tethering her home each night between the hours of 7pm to 7am. So while she’s free from prison walls, she can’t explore her natural calling (rather hard to make it as a singer if you can’t perform during the prime time of 9pm on a busy friday night). Which is a shame considering she used to work for Glasgow’s own Grand Ole Opry, but the new curfew proves futile.
At home, she’s got two growing children (whom she had before the age of 18) and her mother Marion (Julie Waters - terrific) whose been taking care of them during her incarceration. Neither of her children: Wyonna and Lyle - are particularly excited to see their mom and it’s not long before she picks up a steady job cleaning house for Susannah (Sophie Okonedo) and her lavish home. From there, headphones in hand, we - like Susannah - discover Rose has the vocal chops and can actually sing.
With some help and determination, folks start getting the word out about Rose’s voice and begins attracting some of BBC radio’s most notorious talent recruiters with the hopes that she could make a splash in Nashville. This all happening while trying to balance home and work life - and Marion is challenging Rose at every corner (as all parents in these movies must do). Yet their bond is a strong driving factor in the narrative and both actresses are sensational in the more intimate moments allowed of the script.
Aside from family struggles, music is a key component in “Wild Rose” - comprising a good chunk of the overall DNA of the picture, and the performances surrounding Buckley only reinforce just how good she is. Every time Buckley tackles a measure or belts out a chord, by golly it’s transcending. Though Tom Harper’s film lacks the kind’ve consistent energy and momentum to keep up with Buckley’s wild transformation, the music seems to keep everything in visceral motion.
Again, the story plays out real and unexpected and the normal cliched tropes associated with a picture of this caliber - while prominent in other areas - don’t seem as obvious compared to others in the genre with a satisfying (though a bit underwhelming) climax that tries to sum everything up with a song-to-end-all-songs emotional ballad. Thankfully, Buckley sells every frame, giving flavor to the titular character while not being condescending, and providing new definition to the word starstruck.