Every year, there are indie films that, for a variety of budgetary or distributive constraints, struggle to find their audience or go unseen by many. As someone who writes about movies, I want to make a significant effort in spreading the word about smaller films that aren’t necessarily on everyone’s radar. And today, that film is Wild Rose, an often familiar and undeniably moving story about a Scottish woman with dreams of being a country singer, elevated by a trailblazing performance from Jessie Buckley.
Buckley stars as Rose-Lynn, who we first meet on her way out of prison. She returns home to her two young children, who have been raised by Rose-Lynn’s mother, Marion (Julie Walters), in the meantime. Her relationships with her kids and her mother are rocky, with her passion for singing country music being the only steady and stable part of her life.
In an effort to start anew, Rose-Lynn gets a job as a maid for an upper-class family. The mother, Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), takes a liking to Rose-Lynn, and when she learns of her dream of country singer stardom, is eager to give her the connections she needs to make her voice heard in the industry. And thus, Rose-Lynn must struggle with the responsibility of single motherhood as she attempts to chase her dream.
If I were to make a list of reasons to go see Wild Rose, the top three reasons would be Jessie Buckley, Jessie Buckley, and Jessie Buckley. She is that good, carrying us through both the familiar and fresh narrative beats with a rawness and authenticity that only the best talent can pull off. She conveys every moment of inner turmoil, every moment of passion and excitement, every potent lyric so clearly and effectively.
And on top of all that, she is a hell of a singer. It’s the type of performance that serves as a catalyst for a promising future in film, and I can only imagine that Jessie Buckley will become a much more well-known name in the coming years.
Julie Walters also provides reliably great supporting work, creating a pure mother-daughter relationship with Buckley that feels as honest in its inherent conflict as it does in its love. A scene late in the film, where Marion reveals to Rose-Lynn how becoming her mother affected her ambitions, is one of many examples in Wild Rose where a scene that may feel cliché can be sculpted by sheer acting prowess into something fresh that still hits the emotional target you expect it to.
A lot of Wild Rose does feel like well-trodden territory, but Nicole Taylor’s screenplay and Tom Harper’s direction have such a firm grasp of their protagonist that they are able to effortlessly bring you along through Rose-Lynn’s familiar journey.
The cinematography and excellent use of color provide a vivid sense of place, and they are able to visually evoke the cultural differences between Rose-Lynn’s hometown of Glasgow and Nashville, the country music capital of the world.
Wild Rose doesn’t do much to transcend the formula it follows, but Jessie Buckley’s incomparable spark lights up the screen and breathes new life into the genre. Even as I felt I knew where it was going, it still worked on me and I still welled up by the end. It’s the best type of bittersweet crowd-pleaser, and one I really hope finds its audience.
Definitely seek this one out when it finds its way into theaters this month.
Wild Rose is rated R and goes into limited release this Friday, and opens wide to theaters on June 28. All images courtesy of NEON films.