Upon first learning about “Wild Rose,” I dismissed it as most likely another well-intentioned but ultimately unremarkable musician biopic. I had no plans to see it until I learned it is not based on a true story and heard its lead actress, Jessie Buckley, get tons of praise. Although it may follow some familiar tropes, the film is better than many of its genre, in large part because of Buckley’s performance.
She stars as Rose-Lynn Harlan, an aspiring country musician from Glasgow, Scotland who dreams of going to Nashville, Tenn. and hitting it big. Things are not so simple for Harlan, however, as she has two young children (played by Adam Mitchell and Daisy Littlefield), is a convicted felon and has no discernible way to get to Music City, USA.
The reason to see this movie is Buckley, who gives a terrific turn as Harlan. She’s wonderfully raw and vulnerable in the emotional scenes without ever restoring to histrionics. And, she is funny in and likable in an uncouth way as she goes through the film. It’s a grounded, real performance that feels lived-in.
Buckley, a veteran of HBO’s “Chernobyl” and the British talent show “I’d Do Anything,” is also fantastic in the performance scenes. She has an excellent voice that serves her well, but everything about the way she carries herself when her character is onstage makes viewers understand how alive she feels up there. It makes us feel why she loves country music so much and why she keeps pursuing this irrational dream.
In short, it’s one of the best performances of the year so far.
Another highlight of the film is the top-notch soundtrack. It includes some classic country tunes by the likes of Wynonna Judd, Emmylou Harris and others, along with original songs that make fit Buckley’s character and the film’s narrative. The filmmakers perfectly employ all the music to get the desired emotional impact. Fans of country from a generation or two ago should check out the soundtrack.
Several times, audiences hear those tracks in performance scenes, which director Tom Harper and cinematographer George Steel handle well. These filmmakers employ diverse camera angles, camera movements and lighting schemes to help make each performance feel dynamic and unique. Those techniques also add to the feeling moviegoers get that Harlan belongs onstage.
Unfortunately, none of the non-performance scenes work quite as well as the performance ones, despite Buckley’s efforts.
Part of the reason for those other scenes not working as well is the other characters in the film are not particularly well developed by Harper and screenwriter Nicole Taylor. We understand who they are because they serve a purpose in this story, but our emotional investment in those scenes is lessened because we do not know much about these other characters.
The main way audiences know these characters is because they fit types from other films of this ilk. The narrative, too, has tropes, and those feel a little too familiar, robbing the film of some momentum and originality when it should feel fresh because this is an angle on this type of story rarely seen.
“Wild Rose” would have benefited from Harper putting in a couple more instances of imagination like when a band materializes in the background as Buckley sings while vacuuming in one scene. It would have been difficult to pull this off without making this gritty movie feel too fanciful, but if it could have been done it would have removed a slight sense of staleness that sometimes invades the picture.
Relatively speaking, though, these are minor issues. Even with those flaws, the climax of the film works terrifically and the whole thing is effective overall. Even if that were not the case, “Wild Rose” would still be worth watching for Buckley’s work. I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.
“Wild Rose” is rated R for language throughout, some sexuality and brief drug material. It stars Jessie Buckley, Julie Walters, Adam Mitchell, Daisy Littlefield and Sophie Okonedo and runs 1 hour and 41 minutes.