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Laura Dern Week: Rambling Rose (1991)

by Jason Adams

When it came time to choose a performance to honor here for Laura Dern Week I was a bit flummoxed - how does one on narrow it down? She's one of my favorite actresses, maybe the most favorite. So I did what any (semi)sane person in such circumstances would do: I made our host Nathaniel choose for me. I gave him two choices - I am pro-choice! One was my favorite performance of hers as Ruth in Alexander Payne's brutal abortion comedy Citizen Ruth, which I've written about a million times. And there was the one I said I had never seen before. Nathaniel went for freshness...

... but I realized ten minutes into 1991's Rambling Rose that I had actually seen it before. And I hadn't liked it! I'd blocked out the whole damn thing, actually. But a funny thing happened this time around - I found myself charmed.

Oh Elmer Bernstein's score is still obnoxiously overbearing, and the movie is yet still another movie about a woman told from a man's point of view - about how His Idea Of Womanhood was formed by This Particular Woman, about Woman as Symbol and all that jazz. It even robs Rose of an ending - we only hear her fate secondhand, as fodder for another's development.

In fact if the movie came out today I could see Dern being pushed for Supporting Actress at the Oscars, so I was glad to see when I checked that this, her first Oscar nomination (of only two - WTF Academy) was actually correctly for Lead Actress. Because Rambling Rose, name and all, really does belong to her. How could it not, really? The rest of these folks are frilly window dressing. Laura Dern is the window and man, what a view. 

Funny enough there's actually some overlap between her Rose and her Ruth of Citizen Ruth - they're both women ruled by primal instincts who exasperate the people around them as they continue making bad choice after bad choice. There's a scene late in Rose where the folks who've taken Rose in (played with sparkle and charm by Robert Duvall and her actual mother Diane Ladd) are debating whether their nympho-maniacal guest needs an emergency hysterectomy to calm her down - everybody wants to pin Laura Dern and her privates down, man!

There's no pinning this wild flower down. Rambling Rose came out in 1991 after she'd already done two David Lynch movies - a year after she gave the world "Lula Fortune" in Wild at Heart it was clear Laura Dern was going her own way. Rose clearly plays to the sweet edge of the sword, but it's still a sword, make no mistake about it. Her sweet face - THE FACE! - has unstable, elliptical edges. The scene where she allows 13 year old Buddy (Lukas Haas) to, uh, bring her to completion is a shocker even here 25 years later, especially as it sits there in the first quarter of this fuzzy nostalgia piece, coloring everything amber-hued after it.

But that's just what Laura Dern does. She changes everything after. I think it's why our greatest living reality-shifter David Lynch can't take his eyes off of her either - like the restless contours of that fantastic mug of hers she makes the world in her own image, not the other way around. It's all right there. Just look. And good luck ever looking away.

"I am only a human girl person, and I ain't always perfect."

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Reader Comments (6)

My favorite Fern movie.

February 7, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMax

I didn't like this movie either. And I can't imagine a second watch would manage to improve my impression of anything except the mother and daughter performances. But Ladd was perfect on first viewing. And Dern brings a different type of intelligence to a part that in the hands of someone else could simply be either wholly victim or wholly blonde. She really is neither and something else altogether.

By the way her bedroom scene with a minor – gender and orientation matter. Because a man with a young girl or boy would not be causally brushed aside as something of a rite of passage. Strange that men think women with minors is no harm no fail. But give women grief for being as sexual as they are with people of legal age!

February 7, 2017 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

This is one of my favorite films. Loved the sensibility displayed by Martha Coolidge behind the camera, showing the literary charms of the South, its colors, its characters. I really liked that aspect of the film. The performances are also good. Diane Ladd is superlative, especially when she passionately defends Rose's right to be the wildflower she is. Robert Duvall and Lukas Haas are also good in their roles. And of course, above all of them is the magnificent Laura Dern, who plays her role with a fierce energy and so much intelligence, revealing a complete understanding of character and tone. Laura Dern is moving, funny and elevates the film to unexpected heights.

February 7, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterLuigi De Angelis

I could see an Oscar win in Dern's future.

February 7, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMARKGORDONUK

Please include Jurassic Park in this chronicle. The movie doesn't get much attention for it's actors but Dern acted the crap out of that movie. The dinosaurs made us feel wonder and terror but she made us care about the humans running for their lives. Plus she had got some of the best screams in a movie ever.

February 7, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTom

Funny that this was Dern's only Oscar nomination for so long. It's a performance that barely represents her overall body of work.

February 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterHayden

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