Nashville is a long way from Glasgow — even farther when you’re inside a prison cell. But Scottish singer Rose-Lynn Harley (Jessie Buckley) believes she’s destined to be a country star, with a powerhouse voice and “three chords and the truth” tattooed on her right forearm. By the time she’s released, with white cowboy boots covering the monitoring bracelet on her ankle, Rose seems ready to take on the world.
But taking on the world isn’t so easy when you’re a working-class single mother, and you inevitably have to give something up when you’re reaching for something else. Tom Harper’s enormously entertaining “Wild Rose” tempers its familiar rags-to-riches tale of an aspiring artist with honest, messy human drama. We legitimately wonder if “Wild Rose” will be an inspiring tale of perseverance, or a cautionary tale about chasing a pipe dream.
When Rose-Lynn returns home, she’s been gone long enough that her children (Adam Mitchell and Daisy Littlefield) don’t remember much about her. And what they remember isn’t good. An irresponsible, neglectful single mother, Rose-Lynn often left the kids in the care of her disapproving mother (Julie Walters) while she stayed out late, performing boozy country music covers at a bar called “Glasgow’s Grand Ole Opry.”
At first, she seems to pick up her bad habits again. Rose-Lynn isn’t self-destructive, exactly, but she displays a knack for attracting bad luck and trouble. That luck turns when she takes a job as a house cleaner and befriends the bored wife of the household, Savannah (Sophie Okonedo). Savannah sees how talented Rose-Lynn is and starts making connections in the music world for her, and plans to throw a party to raise money to send her to Nashville.
Buckley first came to prominence on a British talent show called “I’ll Do Anything,” so she has the musical chops to play onstage Rose, swaggering around the stage and belting out honkytonk songs (as well as the original “Glasgow,” which seems like a lock for a Best Original Song Oscar nomination.) While there's a lot of doubt whether Rose-Lynn will become a star, there's no question Buckley is on her way.
She’s also a marvelously subtle actress (see her ferocious performance in “Beast”) who conveys the fear and self-doubt of offstage Rose-Lynn. She’s been down so long, at the end of a string of bad choices, that Savannah’s support makes her feel like a fraud. The fact that she might have what it takes to be a star is all that sustains her; to find out conclusively that she doesn’t would be soul-crushing.
It’s that inner war between onstage Rose and offstage Rose that drives “Wild Rose,” even more than the question of whether she’ll make it big as a country star, and Nicole Taylor’s script captures all the subtle contradictions in Rose’s life.
The film’s depiction of blue-collar Glasgow is oppressive, with rows and rows of identical little flats stacked up beneath a thick gray sky. But when Rose gets lost in a country music song, the clouds part, at least for four minutes. But it can be dangerous to build a life around those four minutes.
Like a good country song, “Wild Rose” follows a traditional, time-honored structure while still saying something fresh and true.