In “Lady Bird,” director Greta Gerwig presents a stubborn yet endearing protagonist who is eager to abandon her hometown of Sacramento, California to embark on a romanticized, East Coast adventure. A senior at an all-girls Catholic high school, Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) seizes the college application process as an avenue toward this dream, dedicating her college essay to describing her hometown. Gerwig’s masterful screenplay surrounds Lady Bird’s contempt for Sacramento, until a pivotal scene unfolds between Sister Sarah Joan (Lois Smith) and Lady Bird. After reading Lady Bird’s college essay, Sister Sarah Joan notes that Lady Bird’s detailed attention affirms her adoration of Sacramento, not her abhorrence. Gerwig identifies the complex emotional dissonance between revering and resenting routine in one’s hometown.
“Wild Rose,” directed by Tom Harper and written by Nicole Taylor, transplants a similar paradigm to Glasgow, Scotland: Rose-Lynn (Jessie Buckley), a charming and irresponsible young woman, aspires to move to Nashville, Tennessee to actualize her dream of becoming a successful country music singer. Rose-Lynn, however, is also a convicted felon and the mother of two children, whom she has not seen since her 12-month prison sentence.
Harper and Taylor have created a star vehicle for Buckley, who accomplishes a remarkable feat as she shapes the selfish protagonist into a character deserving of sympathy and support. Buckley delivers a captivating performance, in addition to showcasing her impressive vocal chops. Viewers cannot help but root for Rose-Lynn, even though the character chooses herself over her loved ones at every crossroad, of which there are many.
After her release from prison, Rose-Lynn is an outsider, homeless in her own home. Harper’s direction configures home as a sense of belonging, and Rose-Lynn spends much of the film displaced. The movie opens at the end of her sentence as she packs her map of Nashville. To Rose-Lynn, Nashville is the Garden of Eden, a paradise for country musicians. She disdains Glasgow’s barren artistic landscape, repeatedly correcting those around her that it’s “just country music,” not “country, Western music.” She saunters around the city, often alone, wearing a ratty, American flag T-shirt and well-worn, white cowboy boots, practically advertising her desire to desert Glasgow. The audience is often reminded of her unbridled passion through frequent flashes of her forearm tattoo, which defines country music with the phrase, “Three chords and the truth.” Her tattoo mirrors the movie’s construction, with three structures serving as chords in her life: incarceration, motherhood and music. The film captures her truth.
One of the thorns in “Wild Rose” sprouts from its depiction of Rose-Lynn and her children. During Rose-Lynn’s incarceration, her mother Marion (Julie Walters) took care of her children; however, after her release, Rose-Lynn neglects her parental responsibilities, depending instead on Marion and her neighbors to nurture her children. The film objectifies the children as obstacles to their mother’s dream, and as the film progresses, it relegates them to the narrative’s periphery.
In these scenes, audiences can redirect their attention from the children’s flimsy character arcs to focus instead on the stunning relationship between Rose-Lynn and Walters’ Marion. Walters delivers some of the best lines in the film, often brimming with frustration at her daughter’s irresponsibility. Her more subdued dialogue, however, resonates just as deeply. Observing Rose-Lynn’s dissatisfaction, Marion earnestly confesses that she wanted Rose-Lynn to “take responsibility,” never meaning to “take away (her) hope.”
Complete with a vibrant cast and a cleverly curated soundtrack, “Wild Rose” entwines the joy of a musical with the sobriety of a drama. Everyone — from fellow inmates to her boss’s children to her idol, BBC Radio host Bob Harris — exalts Rose-Lynn’s talent. Buckley’s gift is undeniable, and she strikes many of the film’s entertaining and emotional chords. “Wild Rose,” like Gerwig’s “Lady Bird,” illustrates the complicated relationship one can have with their hometown, and this candid film will surely resonate with an audience forced to root themselves inside their homes.
“Wild Rose” is currently available on Hulu.