When it comes to movies about musicians and their music, you’ll be hard pressed to find any better than Wild Rose. This movie is better than Rocketman, certainly better than Bohemian Rhapsody, arguably even better than A Star Is Born. The travesty is that Wild Rose flies under the radar compared to those films — so far under the radar, in fact, in effect there is no radar at all. And this one is better executed, more deeply emotionally affecting, than all three of those others put together.
And I say this as someone who is not particularly a country music fan, regarding a movie about a young, single mother (Jessie Buckley, fantastic) dreaming of leaving her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland for Nashville, Tennessee to try making it in the country music business. Rose-Lynn is clearly talented (as is Jessie Buckley), but the basic arc of this story, unlike most stories like it, is that she must realize her own naiveté.
Rose-Lynn is just getting out of a year in jail when the movie starts, and we soon learn she is in her twenties and has two children, who have been staying with their grandmother (Julie Walters, always a welcome presence). She remains singularly focused on her Nashville dreams, to the detriment of her relationship with her young children, as well as with her exasperated mother. Rose-Lynn soon finds work as a housekeeper for a relatively well-off woman (Sophie Okonedo), to whom Rose-Lynn lies about having any children, during which they develop a friendship.
The first time Rose-Lynn cleans Susannah’s house, and Susannah pops out for a while and leaves Rose-Lynn alone, we see Rose-Lynn immediately snooping around the rooms, even stealing a glass of some of her liquor. In most other movies, this would be a bit of “Chekhov’s gun” forecasting: surely this will come back to her, and she’ll get caught somehow. But in this case, it’s the first of many examples of the story not quite going in the direction you expect.
Rose-Lynn finds support for her career in unexpected places, most of them home-grown when she’s far too obsessed with visiting Nashville — where, as Wild Rose soon enough makes perfectly clear, trying to launch a career from obscurity is about as easy as a nobody moving to Los Angeles to become a movie star.
And indeed, given her circumstances, Rose-Lynn spends much of the movie being pretty selfish. So much so that I actually began to wonder about it: Will there come a point where I am comfortable rooting for her? Especially to Jessie Buckley’s credit, Rose-Lynn is compelling as a character from the start. And, her story arc is not just satisfying, but is peppered with pretty fantastic country music along the way, including a few original compositions.
Wild Rose is the rare film about a musician trying to make it, with as much concern for well-rounded characters as it has for great music. Most other films that might otherwise be compared to it have a much more singular focus on a rise and fall, and in some cases redemptive rise again, of some tortured artist. In this case, Rose-Lynn rarely makes the obvious choice, and the film is all the better for it. It has its own kind of triumph in the end, but it’s very much on its own terms. Besides, how often do you get a Scottish film about country music? Just this once, as far as we know — and director Tom Harper, and especially Jessie Buckley, knock it out of the park.