‘Wild Rose’ is Pure Country (FILM REVIEW)

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“Three chords and the truth.” Harlan Howard’s succinct description of country music is one that has echoed through the ages. Even in the era of Nashville’s obsession with cookie cutter pop-country, Howard’s mantra has found a home in the world of alt-country, embodying an outlaw aesthetic and serving as the philosophical guiding light that not only explains what country is but also why it’s popular.

It’s that spirit that Jessie Buckley’s Rose-Lynn, who has the mantra tattooed on her forearm, in the new movie, Wild Rose. It is, as so many movies that came before it, a film about deigning to have those honkytonk dreams, and what you might do to achieve them. Setting it apart from films like Crazy Heart or Honkytonk Man is the fact that it takes place not in the heartlands of America, but in Scotland.

Crazy as the premise may feel, Wild Rose is one of the best movies about country music dreams ever made. Coupled with Buckley’s star-making turn as Rose-Lynn, it is a powerhouse exploration of dreams, setbacks, and personal truth that will stay with you long after you leave the theater. No film in recent memory has so powerfully dissected the universal feeling of pure country and, like all good country music, will simultaneously have you tapping your toes and mending your wounded heart.

Wild Rose follows Rose-Lynn as she returns to her Glasgow home after serving a year in prison. As an aspiring country music performer and unabashed country fanatic, she is something of an outcast among her neighbors and family, none of whom can see the appeal. She struggles with the day-to-day toils of reacclimating to post-prison life, including connecting with her two young children, while also struggling to get her foot into a door that barely exists in her home country. Her dreams of Nashville are stunted by the pressures of responsibility, which sends Rose-Lynn on a journey to discover what her truth actually is.

While the script, from writer Nicole Taylor, is somewhat standard and formulaic, Buckley’s performance as the country-dreamer is the stuff by which superstars are made. The Glasgow-born singer and performer channels a raw intensity and visceral pathos into her character that begs the audience to yearn for her success, regardless of how that success might come. It is one of the best performances I have seen all year.

And even while Taylor’s script plays a little too close to the standards of the genre, she still manages to distill what it is that makes country music work. Country is inherently a genre about struggles and overcoming them. About making hearts soar in the midst of heartache. Rose-Lynn’s struggle never feels inauthentic and could work in Nashville just as easily as it does in Glasgow. That, of course, is the beauty of country music. Associated though it is with the south and Americana, the greatest country songs tap into to a universality of the human experience that feels the same regardless of where one is born.

That, ultimately, is the brilliance of “three chords and the truth.” Whether one is in Glasgow or Nashville, life’s struggles are the same. We’re all just people trying to live, trying to work, and trying to dream. Wild Rose taps into those truths as well as the best country songs and best country movies ever have. It is a stunning delight of a film that will set your spirit to singin’.

Wild Rose is now playing in select theaters.

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