“Three chords and the truth” is the mantra that Jessie Buckley’s aspiring singer Rose-Lynn has tattooed on her forearm in Wild Rose. It seems a relatively straightforward sentiment, but at the point in the film when we’re introduced to it, there’s still a lot more to be uncovered beneath that adage.
Armed with a hell of a voice and an irrepressible knack for performance, 20-something mum-of-two Rose-Lynn dreams of travelling from Glasgow to Nashville to make her name as a country singer. However, she’s just completed a 12-month custodial sentence and her mum Marion (Julie Walters) rightly points out that her kids need her more than the music world does.
While working as a day cleaner for wealthy party planner Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), Rose-Lynn is encouraged to make one last bid to achieve her dreams. But much to Marion’s chagrin, she struggles to balance her ambitions and wanderlust with her responsibilities as a parent and finds that “truth” thing a little trickier to wrap her head around.
Understandable though its prominence in the film’s marketing is, “this year’s A Star Is Born” is about as reductive to Wild Rose as “three chords and the truth” is to country music. This isn’t an endlessly adaptable rags-to-riches story. It’s occasionally raggedy and emotionally rich, yes, but the sheer wealth of personality on show here feels unique from the off.
Leading that charge is Buckley, whose breakthrough performance announces her as a force to be reckoned with. For all of her unreliability and self-destructive tendencies, Rose-Lynn generates instant, infectious goodwill purely because Buckley is so magnetic from the moment she skips out of prison in her white sequinned boots.
More than just having the vocal chops, there’s a transfixing, transporting quality to her whenever she sings a note. The character’s performances range from triumph to disaster throughout the film, but whether she’s belting out country standards while doing the hoovering or reclaiming her band from a usurper at a Glasgow social club, she always puts across exactly what this music means to her.
But then none of that would work as well without the contrast of the mother-daughter story that’s the real heart of the film. Putting in her now-annual Best Supporting Actress turn, Walters is quietly spectacular as Marion, whose obvious conflict of interest with her daughter is always borne out of a loving, rock-solid emotional core.
Between some breathtaking moments of silence and all the verbal sparring with Buckley, she holds up her end of the central dynamic magnificently. Nicole Taylor’s grounded script doesn’t in any way suggest a big Scottish musical crowd-pleaser along the lines of, say, Sunshine On Leith, but it toes the line between kitchen-sink realism and musical fantasy quite entertainingly.
As if to demonstrate this, there’s a nigh-unimprovable cameo appearance around half an hour in. Gettable as this person is, the film is as starstruck by them as the recent (and also great) Fighting With My Family is by Dwayne Johnson. That alone is massively endearing.
With all of this in mind, director Tom Harper does well to recreate in the aforementioned social club what Bradley Cooper did in a concert arena, but it shares that bigger film’s focus on character rather than tropes. It dawdles a bit in the second act, but even if the more generic beats that come out wind up feeling like something of a rope-a-dope in retrospect, the powerhouse ending is completely worth it.
Ultimately, Wild Rose is a dazzling but completely satisfying film, looking to the stars while keeping its feet firmly on the ground. Positioned as more of a deferred coming-of-age tale than a story of musical stardom, it absolutely dominates the territory that it stakes out. It may not be entirely original, but its precise emotional impact feels utterly unrepeatable.
Wild Rose is in UK cinemas from 12 April.