For a movie about second chances, “Wild Rose” appears, at first, to take very few chances. Most of the movie follows the paint by numbers formula of movies about dream chasers. Just as the movie takes audiences right where they’re expected it to go, something changes. “Wild Rose” is as wily as its titular character. This tale of a Glasgow born country (not country-western) singer and ex-convict can’t help but have a bit of an unexpected edge.
Rose-Lynn (Jessie Buckley) emerges from a one year stint in prison with wide eyes and big dreams. She sports a fantastic country voice and harbors dreams of making it big in Nashville. Wearing lots of American garb and even more attitude, Rose-Lynn bursts into the Glasgow Opry House she used to perform at with a bull-in-a-china-shop recklessness. It’s not just her life that’s in shambles. Rose-Lynn is the mother of two kids she had as a teenager. While she was incarcerated, her mother Marion (Julie Walters), took care of the family.
It says quite a bit about Jessie Buckley’s performance that she’s able to make this prickly character so lovable. The movie makes no qualms about Rose-Lynn’s priorities. She wants to be a star, not a mother. Though she loves her kids, her head stays firmly in the clouds dreaming of success and a better life. Buckley allows us to indulge in this intoxicating fantasy. Her voice thrills and her passion is tangible. Yet, she’s a woman with an incredible tool, but no manual. She has the potential to be a great artist and the love to be a good mother but little training on how to do either. Hopefully this project gives Buckley many more opportunities to grace the silver screen.
This Cinderella story gets its Fairy Godmother once Rose-Lynn gets a job as a maid for a rich family. The mother of the house, Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), takes an instant liking to Rose-Lynn once she hears her drunkenly sing while cleaning. Susannah uses her connections to get an introduction with BBC Radio’s head country programmer. To her, Rose-Lynn is this bohemian dreamer, not unlike her when she was young. Rose-Lynn indulges her in this fantasy, omitting the fact that she has two kids and is a reformed criminal. The movie settles into its central predicament here. Will Rose-Lynn choose her kids or the potential to live her country music dreams?
When asked why she loves country, Rose-Lynn holds up her arm. Country is just “three lines and the truth.” However, as the movie notes, Rose-Lynn doesn’t have any of those things. She’s blessed with a beautiful voice, but has no idea what her truth is or how to express it. When she works as Susannah’s “day lady,” Rose-Lynn gets to entertain the fantasy that she’s a free woman. She rebukes her Glasgow roots, believing her life will finally begin once she makes it out to Nashville. The film indulges her hopes and dreams, while also staying grounded in how those dreams may actually manifest themselves. Rose-Lynn rejects her truth because she wants a better truth. You may get second chances in life, but you don’t get second truths.
Flanking Jessie Buckley’s central performance are two different sources of maternal strength. The first belongs to the always fantastic Dame Julie Walters, as Rose-Lynn’s mother, Marion. Her love and hopes for Rose have grown weary after Rose’s two teen pregnancies and prison stint. Rose wants to run before she can walk, and Walters’ Marion struggles to turn Rose’s priorities towards her family. Walters earns her status as a Dame, being equal parts loving and tough (often at the same time). The complicated bond she builds with Rose-Lynn fully pays off with a genuinely emotional finale.
Meanwhile, Sophie Okonedo finds new, interesting modulations to what could have been a paper-thin “benevolent rich lady” cliche. She provides Rose-Lynn with the confidence and encouragement she doesn’t necessarily get when she returns home to the responsibilities of motherhood. Okonedo proves that Susannah’s investment and interest is always genuine. She’s genuinely delightful and brings an effortless, sleek energy every time she comes on screen.
One of the most inventive stars of the film is Glasgow, Scotland. Though Rose-Lynn detests her hometown, there’s something charming and magical about it. Who knew there was a pocket of country music lovers in Scotland? While the movie tells us why Rose-Lynn loves country music, one wishes they would explore this subculture more. What resonance does country music have in the UK and how does this differ from its following in America? Once the movie ended, all I wanted to do was spend more time in Glasgow’s Grand Ole Opry.