A star is born.
Even as the aspiring country/western singer played by Jessie Buckley in the familiar but cheeky and entertaining “Wild Rose” demonstrates game-changing onstage talent, the Irish actress herself proves she has the stuff to become a major Hollywood star.
Buckley’s performance here comes on the heels of her heart-searing work as the wife of a first responder in the HBO mini-series, “Chernobyl,” and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more impressive one-two punch by any actor in 2019.
In Tom Harper’s mostly formulaic (although occasionally surprising) “Wild Rose,” Buckley is Rose-Lynn, a single mother in her early 20s who is just out of prison and has a monitor on her ankle and a chip on her shoulder.
Julie Walters — who played a not entirely dissimilar type of working-class upstart in “Educating Rita” back in the day (as in 1983) — is magnificent as Rose-Lynn’s mother, Marion, who has been raising Rose-Lynn’s eight-year-old daughter Wynonna (Daisy Littlefield) and five-year-old son Lyle (Adam Mitchell) basically on her own while Rose-Lynn has been getting into trouble and out raising hell.
And yes, Rose-Lynn named her children after country/western singers.
Like just about every parent in every movie about a working-class dreamer trying to make it big, Marion thinks Rose-Lynn’s ambitions are stupid and will only lead to disappointment. After all, Marion long ago had to give up her own foolish notions of how the world works; when is Rose-Lynn going to put this singing nonsense aside and own her real-world responsibilities?
Sophie Okenedo gives a lovely performance as Susannah, a wealthy woman with a big heart who hires Rose-Lynn to clean her house, sees and hears evidence of Rose-Lynn’s talents — and hires Rose-Lynn to perform at her 50th birthday party, hoping to send her on her way to stardom.
But Susannah’s husband Sam (Jamie Sives), a self-made businessman who has been around, doesn’t trust Rose-Lynn and takes her aside and tells her, “Susannah’s bought into whatever it is you’re selling… but I don’t want you anywhere near my kids… sing your song, get your money, and then you’re gone.”
It’s a devastating moment, especially because Sam might not be wrong about Rose-Lynn, who hasn’t been forthcoming with Susannah about certain hard truths.
One undeniable truth about Rose-Lynn: She is a killer performer onstage. She lights up the room with her natural and arresting presence, and she fills up that room with an angelic voice that’ll stop you in your tracks. The performance numbers in “Wild Rose” are filled with energy and grace and beautifully framed shots of a star in the making.
When the story shifts to Nashville, the screenplay by Nicole Taylor takes some sharp and insightful turns, as Rose-Lynn’s eyes are quickly opened to the massive odds she’s facing even though she’s finally there. A scene in which Rose-Lynn basically sneaks onstage at the Grand Ole Opry in the middle of the day and sings to the empty auditorium feels like it’s going to go one way, but then…
Well. You’ll see.
Because a star truly has been born.