Before going to see Wild Rose, I had seen a fair few posters and promotional materials which dared to compare it to A Star Is Born – for me that’s the kind of comparison that sets alarm bells ringing. Any film that has to market itself in direct comparison with an established hit is always going to set itself up for a fall, so I was naturally anxious going in.
I’m happy to report that my worries were dismissed within the first 10 minutes, and by the end I had fallen head-over-heels in love with this film.
The story itself isn’t by any means groundbreaking: a young, talented singer goes on a journey to becoming a star. However, just as Wild Rose‘s protagonist Rose-Lynn defines country music – “three chords and the truth” – its success is so much more about how the story is told. Here, we don’t have a successful man with nothing to lose, plucking a bright-eyed ingenue from obscurity and pushing her into the limelight; Rose-Lynn is well aware of her talent and, while she certainly has some lucky breaks offered by her well-connected employer, the majority of the story is driven by her own ambition to “make it” as a singer.
This story is nobody’s but Rose-Lynn’s, and up-and-comer Jessie Buckley’s performance is astonishingly good. She’s funny, honest, and a damn good singer to boot. It’s everything that anyone could ask for in this sort of film, and like Rose-Lynn, Buckley is without doubt a superstar in the making.
Of course, a great singer needs a great accompaniment, and so it is with a performance as strong as Jessie Buckley’s. It seems only fitting then to give the bulk of the supporting weight to Julie Walters, who could give an outstanding performance just by reading the phonebook. Here she plays Rose-Lynn’s mother, and surrogate to her daughter’s two children for the duration of her daughter’s prison sentence. Walters effortlessly nails the frustration of a woman forced to abandon her happiness and comfort for the sake of someone else’s happiness; while Jessie Buckley is without argument the star of the show, Walters’ understated performance is the film’s emotional core.
Sophie Okonedo’s role as Rose-Lynn’s employer/guardian angel Susannah is probably the closest person in the film to a friend for the main character, though she’s more or less sidelined once she’s gotten Rose-Lynn through the door. It’s a shame really.
Most importantly though, a musical is only as good as its music. Thankfully Wild Rose more than delivers on that front, with a mixture of original songs and covers peppered throughout, all of which are brilliantly performed by Buckley. Honestly, this review would have been out sooner, but I’ve been so distracted by listening to the soundtrack that it’s taking all of my attention; with any justice the soundtrack album will be a hit.
Wild Rose is a tough act for the rest of the year to follow, and in all honesty I’d be surprised if there are many films this year that surpass it for me in the best films of the year. Yes, we’re barely 4 months into 2019, and along with Us, Wild Rose has cemented a place for me in my end-of-year list.