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A star is born

Brit drama about singer pursuing her dream pulls no punches

Jessie Buckley in Wild Rose


Wild Rose never flinches in its depiction of a self-destructive singer, yet it has us rooting for her every step of the way. That stark contrast upends genre clichés and gloriously transforms them through an emotional gauntlet.

Infusing a “follow your dreams” template with uncompromising realism, Wild Rose is equal parts inspirational journey and cautionary tale. Rose-Lynn Harlan, a young woman in Glasgow, U.K., has just been released from jail after serving a drug trafficking sentence. She wants nothing more than to leave Britain, set out for Nashville, and become a country star.

Rose isn’t fooling herself. Her gifts are obvious, as is her irresistible charisma. But the spirit that drives her raucous Janis Joplin style may lead to self-sabotage. Rose can’t even adhere to the most basic forms of adult responsibility. As one local bartender tells her, Rose is her own worst enemy.

What unfolds is an underdog story where the biggest odds stacked against Rose are the one’s she’s stacked against herself. Two of those odds—a young daughter and son—could also be her greatest joys, unless she allows her personal ambitions to abandon them.

Director Tom Harper (Peaky Blinders) and screenwriter Nicole Taylor complicate the standard dream-chasing plot beats by checking them with responsibilities that dreams often want to run from. That not only includes Rose’s children but also her mother Marion (Julie Walters, Harry Potter’s Mrs. Weasley) who’s been raising them, and Susannah (Sophie Okonedo, Hotel Rwanda), a potentially wealthy benefactor that Rose isn’t being honest with.

Newcomer Jessie Buckley (TV’s Chernobyl and Taboo) is an absolute powerhouse, showcasing a virtuoso display of talent, and performing rowdy original songs with a magnetism that could land her on the country charts. Compellingly flawed, Rose is selfish but not heartless, and being able to make both things be true (especially as they collide in a guilt-ridden crescendo) is vital to making the whole movie resonate. 

Okonedo embodies the faith and hope we have for Rose while Walters vents our frustrations by pointedly articulating them. Buckley and Walters should be bound for Oscar nominations.

Wild Rose doesn’t question or marginalize aspirations; if anything, it celebrates the passion that fuels them. But it also rightly prioritizes them. Passion isn’t enough, and it can be damaging if unbridled. Rose has the necessary talent and drive to go far but her lack of discipline could easily undercut her dreams, all while hurting the people who are most important to her.

Wild Rose may not break new ground or reinvent many wheels, but it drives a familiar formula in different, unexpected directions. Along the way it packs a raw heartrending verisimilitude, one rooted in the need to face (and make) life’s most important decisions, compromises, and sacrifices.

Owning up to your responsibilities may still lead you to your dreams, or it may reshape them into something you never thought could be rewarding. Or, truth be told, it could actually close the door on them forever. Wild Rose doesn’t wilt into an easy, affirming arc of wish fulfillment. It tells a tale that morally defies our YOLO culture, credibly showing that there’s no point in living the dream if you can’t live with yourself. 

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