In Wild Rose, a young woman desperately wants to hit Nashville and become a country singer, but in the tempering words of Patsy Cline, people in hell want ice water.
And while Rose Lynn Harlan (Jessie Buckley) isn’t in hell, she’s in Glasgow, which is a long way from Music City USA.
There are other obstacles: Rose has a LoJack strapped to her ankle, because she’s just out of prison (heroin distribution) and she’s a single mom with two young children to wrangle, with the help of a disapproving and put-upon mom (Julie Waters).
To paraphrase another convict-turn-crooner, Merle Haggard, no one can steer Rose right, but mama tries. She looks after the children while Rose does her court-ordered housemaid work for a rich woman (Sophie Okonedo), even when Rose sneaks off to Glasgow’s local country-scene bar to sing outlaw tunes (Buckley is a trained singer, and a good one).
Rose is pure will and no tact, attributes that register as comic and destructive in equal measure — you laugh, for instance, when Rose, with norm-defying candor, asks her brand-new boss for the cash she needs to finance her Nashville dream. And you cringe when Rose misses her court-ordered curfew.
The movie plays around with the follow-your-dream formula by crisscrossing the line between selfishness and self-fulfillment. When Rose indulges her need to sing, it usually means forsaking her children, and dropping a weighty burden on mom. This sketches the outline of a potentially thankless, scolding role for Walters, but she makes something wonderful out of it — suggesting with subtlety the mixed feelings of a woman who’s made her own sacrifices as a single mother, who sees shortcomings in her wayward daughter but also talent and “gumption,” a spark and a spirit that her conventional life and choices might extinguish. She’s great, and her interplay with Buckley registers as real and heartfelt — they both deserve to be nominated for awards.
There is considerable skill also in the storytelling — the script is shrewd about the problems that money can and can’t solve. Wild Rose also threads the needle between the genre expectations and its own brand of realism, grounded in the very palpable heartache Rose feels as she tries to survive in the space between her family obligations and her artistic ambitions.
Will she find a way to put all of that into a song?
Is the Ole Opry grand?
When it happens, by the way, it’s a showstopper. For many reasons. Glasgow is as many miles from Nashville as the crow flies, but not so distant musically, and when Rose sings an a cappella song with more than a whisper of the Celtic folk tradition, we’re hearing one of the roots that fed the tree, and supports it to this day.
Wild Rose. Directed by Tom Harper. Jessie Buckley, Julie Walters, Sophie Okonedo. Distributed by Neon.
Run time: 1 hour, 41 mins.
Parents guide: R (language)