Every once in a while, an actor gives a performance so mesmerizing that you sit up straight and think, Where did this person come from and why didn't I know them before now? Such is the case with Jessie Buckley, the star of the country music drama Wild Rose. Buckley's not exactly a newcomer; she has appeared in several British TV shows and can currently be seen on HBO's Chernobyl. Her work in this film is the thing most likely to catapult her to stardom, though. She's astonishing.
Buckley plays Rose-Lynn, a young woman from Glasgow, Scotland who has just been released from prison on a drug charge. Her disapproving mother Marion (Julie Walters) expects that she will begin taking care of her two children. Rose-Lynn has other plans. She wants to earn enough money to go to Nashville so she can pursue her dream of becoming a country singer. A wealthy woman (Sophie Okonedo) for whom Rose-Lynn works offers to help her out. Moving toward the goal keeps her away from her kids, and Marion is quick to criticize.
Wild Rose follows the template for movies about aspiring singers pretty closely, and it hits most of the familiar story beats. Not much happens plot-wise that you haven't seen before and won't see coming. Buckley rises above that, giving the movie vibrancy and life. Rose-Lynn is, by conception, a wild child – a young woman who doesn't take any guff from anybody. Sometimes actors play characters like that and it feels put on, like the performance it is. Buckley avoids that. She's so real in this role that you forget you're watching a fictional person. Consequently, it's easy to get wrapped up in Rose-Lynn's journey.
Adding to the impact is that Buckley is one hell of a singer. There's tremendous soul in her voice. It conveys all the hope, pain, and guilt that Rose-Lynn experiences. Even if you don't like country music, failing to get pulled in by the film's songs is virtually impossible.
An interesting theme propels Wild Rose: Nashville is a magical place. Anyone from anywhere in the world can go there and take their shot at stardom. Yes, the competition is stiff, but with hard work and some talent, it's not out of the realm of possibility that a dream will come true. Rose-Lynn knows it, which is precisely why she views Music City as her ticket out of a working-class life, as well as her chance to prove that she can make something of herself. All her eggs are in that basket – a fact that gives the film emotional stakes. She has no back-up plan, so it's either win big or lose big.
Julie Walters does excellent supporting work, as does Sophie Okonedo. Their characters provide nice, grounded contrasts to Rose-Lynn, giving her formidable people to bond with and/or rebel against. Wild Rose also has a poignant message about how there can be multiple definitions of success.
On its own, the movie is an entertaining music drama that's worth seeing. Anchored by Jessie Buckley's riveting work, however, it becomes a touching, inspiring tale with singing that'll blow you away.
out of four
Wild Rose is rated R for language throughout, some sexuality and brief drug material. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.