If Lady Gaga got an Oscar nomination for A Star Is Born, Jessie Buckley gets two for Wild Rose. That’s just fair market value, folks. Audaciously unoriginal, the film is a breezy excuse to let Buckley do her stunning thing, a rousing celebration of a flawed ma, and a petty “woe is me” ballad with a delightful Scottish lilt. Even those who (understandably) detest the country music at the core of Wild Rose are going to have a damn hard time not singing along by the end.
Blessed with the kind of hyphenated first name that screams “Tennessee me,” Rose-Lynn (Buckley) has always wanted to be a country singer. “Not country-western” she admonishes time and again, “just country.” Sporting a shitty, slanted tattoo that reads “three chords and the truth,” Rose-Lynn is bound for greatness. Well, as soon as she finishes her stint in prison.
Once released, her mother (Julie Walters) rightfully chastises her to sort herself out for the sake of her two young kids. So Rose-Lynn gets a gig cleaning a mansion, slyly swigging their booze while vacuuming with swagger. The rich lady owner, Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), takes a liking to her plucky spunk. She provides Rose-Lynn with something that looks like a map for a journey that had previously been nothing but comfortably unattainable fantasy. As the reality of Rose-Lynn’s situation bucks against the pull of her dream, she’s damn sure gonna sing about it.
Does that make it sound like absolutely nothing about Wild Rose is in any way original? It isn’t! Guess what: The comfort and joy inherent in repeated refrains explains why no country guitar player has ever needed to learn a fourth chord. It’s not what you play, it’s how, and Buckley plays her guts out. Nicole Taylor’s script may lack innovation but it sports soul-crushing and soul-awakening tiny moments in abundance. For example, “Yes. Just not yet…” is inarguably the most heart-breaking response to “Do you want kids?” that a woman who already has children can possibly give.
Were this set in America, the cliché cavalcade would have avalanched everything. Ultimately, this is a love story between Rose-Lynn and her hometown and life choices. Director Tom Harper never surrenders to an over-dramatization, refusing to suggest that somehow his heroine is unduly put upon. Rose-Lynn kinda sucks at times, from her addiction to irresponsibility to her unwillingness to actually commit to what she claims to want more than anything. That makes her a far more compelling and fascinating character than, say, a doe-eyed ingenue who “sure does work real hard and just wants a shot, mister.”
Buckley deserves to be stupidly mega-famous. Yes, yes, her singing voice scorches with a throaty wallop, but it’s the muted fire behind her eyes in the film’s quietest moments that make her a star in waiting. Resist the urge to dismiss this one based on tired subject matter, as Wild Rose is transcendentally far more than the sum of its well-worn parts.
Grade = A