LFF review: ‘Wild Rose’ is a celebration of the emancipating power of music
15 October 2018 14:36
‘Three chords and the truth’: this is the country music slogan tattooed on the arm of Rose-Lynn, played by Jessie Buckley, the star – and star is the word – of Wild Rose.
Tom Harper’s infectiously enjoyable and thoroughly honest movie will inevitably be compared to A Star is Born, but the parallels between the two films are relatively few in number (the cost of ambition, choice of musical genre, female empowerment).
Whereas Bradley Cooper’s latest iteration of a Hollywood classic is self-consciously mythic in scale and tone, Wild Rose grapples unflinchingly with class, daily family life and the drudgery of most work. And it is set on the estates of Glasgow, not the prairies of Arizona and Tennessee. In its celebration of the emancipating power of music it owes more to The Commitments (Alan Parker, 1991) or That’ll Be The Day (Claude Whatham, 1973).
Fresh out of prison, Rose-Lynn returns to her two children – both born before she was 18 – who have been looked after while she was inside by her own mother (Julie Walters, dependably superb). Desperate to make it as a country singer, she meanwhile takes a cleaning job with the well-to-do Susannah (Sophie Okenodo); who, discovering Rose-Lynn’s talent, takes her on as a personal project in social mobility.
As well-meaning as Susannah is – she organises a meeting in London for her protégée with Radio 2’s ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris (playing himself) – her enthusiasm soon tips into embarrassing virtue-signalling. When she turns her own birthday party into a crowd-funding event to help Rose-Lynn go to Nashville, the whole artifice disintegrates – at emotional cost to both women.
Wild Rose could easily have tumbled into grey Mike Leigh realism (dreams rarely come true) or opted for a pat fairy-tale ending (Billy Elliott, but transplanted to Glasgow). Cleverly, it does neither.
Rose-Lynn does indeed make it to Nashville, but not with the consequences that one might predict. Instead of collapsing into anonymity, or exploding into instant stardom, she chooses the hardest path: which is to mature.
This is an unabashedly joyous film, knitted together by fabulous music. It addresses the responsibilities of parenthood and the constraints of social background without slipping into dreary earnestness. Its glorious finale, which I shall certainly not spoil, shows just how much you can achieve – with three chords and the truth.