The music industry has certainly captured the attention of filmmakers of late and, whether it be fictional outings such as A Star is Born and Vox Lux, biographical renderings such as Rocket Man or the fiction-posing-as-truth of Bohemian Rhapsody, movies about musical artists have been plentiful of late (and with more yet to be released in Australian cinemas, such as Her Smell and Teen Spirit), the rags-to-riches narrative staple of such films has proven an irresistible lure for the studios and independents alike and this latest effort comes from British director Tom Harper, whose credits thus far have been largely in television. Set in Scotland, Wild Rose does trek the well-trodden path of those that have come before it in that it follows the exploits of a talented singer looking to make her mark in an industry where connections and good fortune play as much of a role, if not more, than talent does in finding success.
In this instance, being a country singer with dreams of Nashville proves particularly problematic for Rose-Lynn (Jessie Buckley), a young single mother who is fresh out of prison and anchored down in gloomy Glasgow. Talented she may be, but like Natalie Portman’s Celeste in Vox Lux, Rose is nasty, narcissistic and not a particularly pleasant person. The difference being that Celeste’s arrogant disregard for those around her was borne from the trappings of her considerable success, whereas Rose seems hell bent on alienating everybody within her orbit – including her children, her mother Marion (Julie Walters) and a wealthy benefactor – before she achieves anything at all as an artist.
With hopes of returning to her singing gig at the local country bar curtailed by an ankle monitor that prevents her from venturing out after dark, Rose takes a job as a housekeeper for Susannah (Sophie Okenodo), whose efforts to help Rose advance her music career are ultimately sabotaged by the very person she is trying to help. In fact, the whole relationship between Susannah and Rose makes little sense, largely because it seems so utterly unlikely. Susannah uses her connections to garner Rose a meeting with BBC presenter/producer Bob Harris (playing himself) who, according to Rose, is the only person in Britain other than her who knows anything about country music, but we never really learn why Susannah is so determined to help somebody who is their own worst enemy. Is it boredom? Is it to assuage any guilt she harbours about the position of privilege she occupies? Neither Harper nor screenwriter Nicole Taylor make this very clear, which in turn makes it hard to extend much sympathy to Susannah when Rose inevitably lets her down.
Having amassed a string of television credits before launching onto cinema screens in 2017’s Beast, Buckley is mesmerizingly manic as the self-destructive force of nature whose every misstep proves both riveting and repellent, in much the same way a car crash might, at least until a trip to Nashville serves as the catalyst for Rose to realise the sheer magnitude of what lays ahead in her quest to conquer the country music capital. The subsequent transformation sees Rose morph into somebody who is altogether nicer, but infinitely less interesting. Sure, there is a point of difference to the other films of this ilk in that Rose doesn’t end up a global superstar (although, I guess that remains a possibility), but geez it would have been good to witness the havoc she could have wreaked if she had made it to the top. Although Wild Rose is hampered by a lack of exposition, Buckley’s gung-ho performance keeps you interested for most the running time. It is just a shame that it all peters out to a somewhat tepid conclusion when there is so much possibility for this to end with a bang one way or the other.