Of all the films about a Scottish convict dreaming of singing at the Grand Ole Opry, Wild Rose is head-and-shoulders above the rest. Kidding aside, this movie is one of the best of 2019 thus far, and the second-best musical of the year. Considering that this year's Rocketman is one of the best movie musicals of the past decade (What's that? You haven't seen it yet?), I have more than enough admiration left for Wild Rose, an engagingly fresh new film from director Tom Harper (the BBC's War and Peace). But the true reason that should quicken your pace to the box office is a blow-the-doors-off star-making performance from Jessie Buckley (HBO's Chernobyl), unleashing the forces of heaven and/or hell whenever she raises her voice to sing (Wild Rose's soundtrack is a must-download).
Truth be told, it's been a full 10 months since I first saw the film at its world premiere during last September's Toronto International Film Festival. The emerging studio NEON quickly snapped up its North American distribution rights and quite adroitly kept its powder dry by holding the movie's wide release until now, in what has become a rather parched season at the summer box office. As a result, Wild Rose is garnering some of the year's best critical notices: The Washington Post's Michael O'Sullivan called the film "something beautiful." IndieWire's David Ehrlich described Jessie Buckley as "unbelievably great." And Variety's Owen Gieberman wrote that Wild Rose "lifts you up and sweeps you along, touching you down in a puddle of well-earned tears."
Indeed, there were more than a few tears at Wild Rose's world premiere at TIFF. Buckley cried nearly a bucketful as she strode to the stage, greeted by a huge ovation.
"This film gave me one of the most incredible gifts to my ears and my heart," said a smiling-through-the-tears Buckley. "I just always loved music—all different kinds of music—and was always involved in some sort of social suicide like a marching band or harp camp or something weird and wonderful."
Buckley portrays the 20-something Rose-Lynn Harlan of Glasgow, Scotland, recently released from prison and struggling to raise two young children while trying to reconcile with a disapproving mother (the always-wonderful Julie Walters). All that said, Rose-Lynn daydreams and nightdreams of being a star. To that end, Wild Rose is something akin to some other wonderful Brits-as-dreamers genre films, like The Full Monty, Brassed Off, Kinky Boots, or Billy Elliott (which, coincidentally co-starred Walters). But Rose-Lynn's dream is quite particular: She sees herself crooning on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry someday soon. Early in the film, when she storms into a local Glasgow bar and rips into Chris Stapleton's "Outlaw State of Mind," Rose-Lynn's dream begins to take flight. Make no mistake, her flight is bumpy and often fraught, but you wouldn't want to miss the trip for all the rhinestones in Nashville.
Wild Rose's greatest strength is how it never surrenders to cliches or easy tropes that are so often shackled to musical films. In fact, Wild Rose is less about Rose-Lynn's natural talent (which is considerable), and much more about her maturity beyond her years. Ultimately, the film confirms that we live an illusion if we try to separate dreams from responsibilities. To reach one's true potential, you really can't do one without the other.
"For me, Rose-Lynn had such a tenacious bold, 'blouty' courage to go after her dream, even in the wake of causing havoc around herself," Buckley told Boise Weekly following the film's premiere. "Well, she catches that dream, even when everybody around tells her it's not possible. For me, Wild Rose is... well, it's a 'prison-break' film, isn't it? It's about the limitation of being told you can only dream within your walls. Well, Rose-Lynn kicks down those walls and inspires us all to go for it."
For the record, I'm not sure what the formal definition of "blouty" is. But it's my new favorite word.