Playing an aspiring country-and-western singer in “Wild Rose,” “Chernobyl’s” Jessie Buckley embodies the elements that lay at the core of the music. It’s a breakout performance that delivers sincerity, heartache and most of all authenticity.
Set in Glasgow, the coming-of-age story focusses on Rose-Lynn (Buckley), a young mom with dreams of going to Nashville to become a country singer. “There’s nothing for me here,” she says of her hometown. “There I can hone my craft. I want to use my talent.” She’s so devoted to country music she even has a “three chords and the truth” tattoo on her arm.
But her life contains as much struggle and bad luck as the country-and-western lyrics she loves so much. As an ex-con, she also has an electronic ankle bracelet and can’t leave her apartment after dark, making booking gigs next to impossible. Her two kids barely remember her and only speak to her when forced, They’re being raised by Rose-Lynn’s mother Marion (Julie Walters), who scolds her daughter, “You don’t stick at things.”
During the day Rose-Lynn works, cleaning the house of Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), a rich woman who is very taken with her employee’s spunky attitude and beautiful singing voice. With her help Rose-Lynn may finally see her dreams come true and begin a journey of true self-discovery.
Part “A Star is Born” and part family drama, “Wild Rose” is a low-key story of over-coming adversity. Rose-Lynn may be her own worst enemy, refusing to take responsibility for her lot in life, but ultimately, she aspires to improvement for herself and her family. Without that this kitchen sink drama of musical boot strapping would be too downbeat. Instead we meet someone, beautifully played by Buckley, taking the hard road to personal success.
The movie is a showcase for Buckley, who impresses both when she’s singing and when she’s not. First, the voice. She can belt it out with the best of them but it’s the moments where she brings it down, gracefully and emotionally delivering Wynonna’s “Peace in this House” ballad, that she reveals the depth of her talent. It’s a heartbreaker and she breathes life into it; no frills, just raw emotion.
She manages to make Rose-Lynn compelling, flaws and all. Impulsive, she puts her wants and musical ambition ahead of everyone, including her kids but in her self-aware moments Buckley allows us to understand that it’s not simply irresponsible behavior that landed Rose-Lynn in her current situation but her inability to balance her dreams with her reality, desire with duty. She’s messy and often gets in her own way but despite all that Buckley’s charisma makes us root for her.
“Wild Rose” is very specific in its Glasgow setting—the accents may be a bit daunting for the uninitiated—but like the songs Rose-Lynn loves so much, it deals with universal themes of regret, love, family and redemption. You don’t have to be a country fan to like the movie, it wouldn’t hurt, just a fan of raw, emotional storytelling.