Country music, at its best, is a format for delivering songs that comment on the human condition. Storytelling and a heart laid bare are key components to any great country tune. And a bit of twang doesn’t hurt either. All those things, and more, are available in “Yellow Rose,” a new drama now playing in theatres.
Set pm the outskirts of Austin, Texas, “Yellow Rose” is the story of Rose Garcia (Eva Noblezada, a Filipina17-year-old who lives at the rundown motel where her mother Priscilla (Princess Punzalan) is an undocumented worker. Rose is obsessed with country music and when she isn’t being wooed by Elliot (Liam Booth), a sweet young guy who works at the music shop, she’s writing songs, even though she’s too shy to share them with anyone.
Her life is flipped upside down when she sneaks away to The Broken Spoke, an Austin honky-tonk, to see real-life Texas legend Dale Watson (playing himself) only to return to find her mother has been scooped by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and is now in custody.
Hoping to avoid arrest, Rose hides out with her aunt Gail (Lea Salonga) in a wealthy suburb across town as she mulls over the possibility of returning to Manilla with her mother or staying in Texas. Her aunt is welcoming, if cautious, but her uncle, a man she barely knows, wants her gone. Once again, Rose hits the road, this time finding refuge at the back room of The Broken Spoke and a mentor in the form of Watson.
“Yellow Rose,” the debut feature from director Diane Paragas, tackles big questions without offering up answers. Instead, as Roger Ebert once said of cinema in general, it acts as an empathy machine, allowing you to get to know, and feel for, a person whose future is unsure. It’s an urgent plea for inclusivity, for allowing people to find a place in the world and live without fear. Paragas does a good job of making sure the story never gets cloying. She is aided by Noblezeda whose performance is sweet but steely and Salonga, who returns to the screen for the first time in a quarter century, to play Rose’s estranged aunt.
My favorite performance comes from Watson, who in real life is a singer-songwriter and restaurateur in Texas. As Rose’s mentor, a man who drinks beer in the morning and sings his heart out on stage at night, he drips authenticity. He teaches Rose to trust herself in music and in life, and you get the sense he learned those same lessons the hard way.
As I said, “Yellow Rose” doesn’t offer up any answers to the big questions it raises, but it is infused with hope, and, like a good country song, tells a an affecting story with just three chords and the truth.