Review: 'Wild Rose', Jessie Buckley Blooms As A Scottish Singer With Nashville Dreams

Stop me if you've heard this one before: a young Scottish ex-con and mother of two looks to break out from a dreary future by going to Nashville and becoming a famous country-western singer. Why haven't you stopped me?  Wild Rose, a firecracker of an underdog drama that acts as a spirited alternative to the recent spate of musical biopics and remakes, is led by the meteoric talent of Jessie Buckley who gives the best musical performance of the year so far. 

Buckley is a superstar, a BBC singing competition finalist who has made the successful transition to acting with acclaimed performances in Beast and HBO's Chernobyl. She plays the titular wild rose, Rose-Lynn Harlan, a parolee who emerges singing "Outlaw State of Mind", a mindset she carries with her always, even if her reality is more dramatic than can be summed up by the title of any Chris Stapleton song. But Rose-Lynn's rebellious spirit has been tamed by a state-monitored ankle bracelet that limits her freedom, a hovering mother (Julie Walters) who has been caring for her two estranged kids, and her own self-destructive tendencies. She gets out of prison and immediately shags a guy in public, then gets into a fight that costs her the lousy job she was counting on.

But what Rose-Lynn has is a voice and a dream. She's got the voice of Patsy Kline and an attitude that would make Dolly Parton think twice. There's no doubt in her mind she wasn't meant to be a Scottish woman, she was born for Nashville. Willing to do anything to achieve her dream of country music stardom, she's not above cutting a few corners to get ahead. She cons her way into a housekeeping job at a posh home where the matriarch (Sophie Okenedo) takes an interest in her gritty, blue-collar story and powerful, soulful voice.

Natalie Taylor's screenplay carries with it no shortage of familiarities in the rags-to-riches genre, but you won't care any time Buckley gets to sing. A spitfire in every single scene, exudes the liberating energy of country music at its most powerful and personal. Rose-Lynn finds comfort in the struggles captured by the lyrics, because it's so much easier than dealing with the harsh truth that she is to blame for all of her troubles. She'd rather hop on stage of Glasgow's version of the Grand Ole Opry, or drink herself into a stupor at the local pub, than treat her kids to a promised pizza night. Armed with a tattoo with her personal mantra: "Three chords and the truth", nobody is in greater denial than Rose-Lynn.  Taylor's pretty forgiving of Rose-Lynn's selfish tendencies, owing it to a desire for a better life. But that's too easy an answer for a film that is authentically rough around the edges in virtually every other respect.

While Rose-Lynn's upward trajectory is predictable, trust that this is no A Star is Born. A heart-stopping a capella at Nashville's legendary Ryman Auditorium is both a pinnacle and a come-to-Jesus moment that leads to a decision that will throw some for a loop.  In upending our expectations, Wild Rose finally sheds any genre tropes and sticks to the core principal that has defined Rose-Lynn's roller coaster life: "Three chords and the truth."

Rating: 4 out of 5