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Tribeca Review: Wild Rose

Lynn Harlan (Jessie Buckley) in WILD ROSE. Courtesy of NEON

We are in a golden age of movies about famous female singers. Last fall, we got the Oscar-winning A Star is Born starring Lady Gaga. Then we got Natalie Portman continuing her Imperial Phase with a performance that deserved an Oscar in Vox Lux. This year, we got writer-director Max Minghella’s ode to current electro-pop, Teen Spirit, and the decidedly grungier Her Smell, with Elisabeth Moss giving the best performance of anyone’s career. Now, from director Tom Harper comes Wild Rose, a melancholy ballad about country music that’s set to make lead Jessie Buckley a star.

Buckley plays Rose-Lynn Harper, a Glasgow-born Scottish girl who dreams of moving to Nashville to become a country star. When we first meet her, Rose’s dreams couldn’t seem more impossible: fresh out of prison and stuck with an ankle monitor that binds her to a curfew that keeps her from playing gigs in the evenings.

Things start to change, though, when the children of Susannah (Sophie Okeneda) the wealthy woman whose home Rose cleans, catch her singing one day. Inspired by her talent, Susannah uses her connections to get Rose in front of the right people. It’s a familiar story and it hits many of the same beats as the other aspiring pop star movies, but what makes this version standout is Buckley.

Where Gaga and Fanning were playing ingenues, Buckley actually is one—or at least as much as she can be playing a foul-mouthed alcoholic musician with two kids. Though she’s done extensive theater across the pond and was dangerous and captivating in last year’s Beast, this will be many Americans’ first encounter and she makes an impression. With her unkempt shag-cut red hair and beat up white cowboy boots, Rose is messy. She gets into fights, brazenly rejects any responsibility and seems to openly resent her children. Rose is hard to like, but Buckley plays her as if there’s a whole lot of hurt under that brassy exterior. Indeed, when she looks at the daughter who refuses to speak to her for much of the film or records a video to send to a country-loving radio DJ, we can see her desperation for love and success.

That said, Rose’s yearning wouldn’t matter in the face of all that childishness if she didn’t have real potential as a singer, but Buckley is nothing short of a revelation in the performance scenes. First off, she can sing. When she belts, her voice takes on the warble and rasp of Janis Joplin, when she’s low and mournful, it’s like early Dolly Parton. She expertly conveys the emotion of every word, in large part because like Gaga before her, Buckley helped write the original songs Rose sings in the film—many of them with the film’s writer, Nicole Taylor.

Speaking of the script, it’s also Taylor’s take on the familiar narrative that allows Buckley to soar. Though Wild Rose hits many of the beats we expect, Taylor spends most of the movie setting them up only to immediately subvert them. When Susannah pays to send Rose to London for the day to meet BBC 2’S famous country DJ, Bob Harris, Rose’s lack of discipline gets the better of her and she not only gets her stuff stolen while drinking with some blokes, she has to run from the station to the BBC offices. When Rose seems to realize in the last act that her dreams have to take a backseat to her parental duties, the film keeps going, forcing us to question the nature of success and giving us both a stealth Kacey Musgraves cameo and a great emotional speech from Julie Walters as Rose’s mother to boot.

Though we are coming dangerously close to reaching our threshhold for movies about women becoming famous singers, Wild Rose holds off that fatigue just a little bit longer. It may tell a story we’ve heard before, but it tells it in a way that is understated, smart and features a breakout performance from Buckley that should make her a star in the way her character aspires to be. I say, let the Lady Pop Star Extended Universe begin. Can’t wait for the team up movie.

Wild Rose hits theaters on June 14.

Marisa Carpico
Marisa Carpico
By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to.

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