In many ways this movie is like so many others, but in other ways it is like no other. Or, as a pithier writer would say, and in fact did say, on the Roger Ebert site review: “Wild Rose may sound like a familiar tune, but you’ve never heard it performed quite like this”.
In short, Wild Rose is the story of a young Glaswegian singer with an intense love of – and talent for – American country music. She wants to go to Nashville and become a star with every fibre of her being, but she keeps getting in her own way. She is recently out of prison, has two young children who barely know her, a put-upon mother (Julie Walters) who is running out of patience, and shows no signs of growing up any time soon.
Though we meet Rose-Lynn when she is out of prison and attempting a new life, with a new job and house with her children, her heart is still set on going to the USA. Her wealthy and connected boss, playing sensitively by Sophie Okenedo, is supportive of her dream and just might be her ticket there. The film depicts the difficult collision of her dreams and her reality.
I loved this movie for many reasons but one of them is that it feels in some weird way kind of like an anti – A Star is Born. A girl with a big talent from nowhere gets her chance to hit the big time. In this film, our underdog protagonist never sells out, and though she has plenty of problems, a man ain’t one. She’s her own problem. Plus it’s set in Glasgow, so the voices and the setting and the interactions between people are so much more real and raw and funny than you would get in the American version of this story.
This is also a story largely focused on women. Mothers and daughters, and real female friendship and solidarity. It passes the Bechdel test with flying colors.
Jessie Buckley as Rose-Lynn is simply amazing as a young woman with an unstoppable force of life within her. I could relate so hard to her in some ways, especially her deep love for music. She’s all reaction, no reflection. Raw energy. When her boss asks her, “why country?” Rose-Lynn’s instant answer went straight to my gut and choked me up: “Because it’s three chords and the truth”. This is a quote attributed to the late singer Harlan Howard and I think it’s just stunningly beautiful. This film almost made me love country music.
Rose-Lynn is undeniably special, but not often sympathetic for most of the film. The scene where she first manages to get back on stage to sing after her stint in prison is pure electricity. She is a born performer, and watching a woman be that free on the screen still feels thrilling. But the problem is – she’s not free. She lets her family down so hard. She’s a dreamer with no plan, a rebel rebelling against all the wrong things.
Aside from her sheer talent and her genuine joie de vivre, the thing I couldn’t stop being struck by was how different her story would be if she was a man. Bear with me.
A man, irresponsible, brimming with talent, has children while in his teens. It’s hard to imagine a world where that would stop him from going for his dreams.
Men are not the centre of this this film, but their absence is telling. So many of my personal heroes, musical or otherwise, were and are in their real life absent fathers. Or had/have the support of a woman, or several women, to manage their domestic lives so they could/can focus on their art. Coincidently, a couple of days after I scribbled these thoughts in my notebooks I came across this article in the Guardian which explores exactly that topic.
In it Brigid Schulte looks at the women behind the men, and the fact that there’s often no one behind the woman. Her thesis is, “it’s not that women haven’t had the talent to make their mark in the world of ideas and art. They’ve never had the time.” It’s something I’ve often thought myself. It’s something I know so many of my peers have considered when deciding if they want to have a family. It’s very personal and very heartbreaking to me, to know I have to choose. Schulte says another thing that really got to me: “I feel such a sense of loss when I think of the great, unwritten poems that took a backseat to polished floors.”
I find it so frustrating that the majority of people don’t want to acknowledge that we are coming out of, and are in many very real ways still in, a very long period of gender inequality. Yes, things are changing in many places and in many ways for the better. It’s a process and it will be happening for a long time. Yet every time I find something online that addresses the pay gap, the burden of emotional labour that women carry, even accounts of sexual abuse and harassment, all I see are reams and reams of men complaining ‘not all men’. I know, I know – never read the comments. I guess that’s partly why I still love reading newspapers – no fucking comments. Also, I know am naive and hopeful for even expecting people to be better, but I do. I feel like saying to them all – ‘Mate – no one is saying YOU are oppressing women. Maybe you are – I don’t know? But if you are not even willing to accept that this oppression exists than it’s not looking good for you buddy’. We live within a structure that is sexist / homophobic / racist / capitalist / etc and it is detrimental to all of us. It’s that lightbulb moment – This is not about me. You could call it being mature? Having empathy? Some people never have that lightbulb moment.
When I shared that article by Schulte on my FB page no men ‘liked’ it. When I shared a brilliant cartoon by the artist Emma in an Idles FB fan group – somewhere I thought it might find a sympathetic audience – the only response I got was a dude saying “Great, something else to make me feel shit about myself”. I left that stupid group. Imagine someone telling you, “this is my experience”, and flipping it around to be personally offended by their experience. Oh yeh – I guess this is how POC feel every single day. FUCK.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not defending Rose-Lynn’s behaviour. She’s as destructive and selfish as a drug addict. My heart hurt for her children and her exhausted mother. And her breakthough with her family in the final act, though beautiful, is an unlikely scenario.
This is firmly not an ‘issues’ film. Like its irrepressible protagonist, Wild Rose is massively entertaining and has a kind heart. It embodies themes of class and gender without commenting on them. People are given the chance to redeem themselves. If you want it to be, it’s just a brilliant movie about music and family and chasing your dreams. However if you’re me, it’s an all-too-rare rare depiction of dynamic women, genuine female connections, and the costs of living a life less ordinary.