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Soundtracking: Wild Rose

by Chris Feil

If it’s time to start assessing this year’s Best Original Song Oscar potential at 2019’s midpoint, we have just been given a hell of a frontrunner in Wild Rose. The film’s buried lede is the participation of one beloved Oscar-winning actress. Guys, Mary Steenburgen is also a songwriter these days, and as Wild Rose’s finale proves, she’s a pretty good one.

Earlier this summer Rocketman arrived already prepackaged for a Broadway iteration by design, and Wild Rose feels similarly ready for the stage translation. The narrative follows all of the hallmarks of the traditional narrative structure for film’s about everyday people with big musical dreams. The film follows young Rose-Lynn, freshly released from prison back to her humble Glasgow home where her wary mother and two children await. She’s a long way from the Nashville she claims as her true home, with even further distance between her dreams of being a famous singer and her reality cleaning houses.

The songs come precisely where you expect them to, along with the story beats you’ll be familiar with with this kind of story. Despite all of its easily accessible charms and tidal wave of emotion, Wild Rose is somewhat of a mixed bag in terms of being a cohesive musical. Rose-Lynn’s style is rooted in Americana soulfulness, but the film gives her a mishmash to express it. We see a fantasy musical sequence in her head as she does her daily work, a single-take in intimate close-up, and another raucous pub celebration showstopper. The musical style is singular, but the sequences all feel like different directors delivering divergent music videos from the same album. Maybe the stage will give us something less (forgivably) scattered.

The greatest asset in the film’s lineup however is Jessie Buckley as Rose-Lynn. It’s a convincing performance, but becomes a revelatory one when we’re treated to her stunning vocals. Whereas other country musicals feel pose-y, Buckley is a natural at running the country music spectrum from bluegrass to gospel to rocky twang, from grungy bar stages to more high-falutin establishment venues. Like maybe the Oscar stage.

Wild Rose could make it to that stage because its original track is precisely where the film offers the unexpected, and not just from its authorship. Co-written with Caitlyn Smith and Kate York, “Glasgow (No Place Like Home)” closes the film and wrings out the tears that the film had been building toward. Finally, Rose-Lynn has written her own song, told her own story.

Where the film is otherwise very familiar, this song represents where it diverges from this traditional Big Dreamer arc and does so with tremendous feeling. Rose-Lynn spends the film with the certainty that her dream and ability are enough to secure her destiny, a righteousness that denies her national identity and place in her family. Her story ultimately surprises when it turns into a journey not of realizing dreams, but of accepting responsibility and earning what comes. It’s a subtle twist, but the song milks it for maximum emotional impact. What it lacks in storytelling ambition, it makes up for in genuine feeling here and throughout Buckley’s arresting performance.

All Soundtracking installments can be found here!

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Reader Comments (2)

So glad you covered this and WOW that song. I'm so proud of Mary Steenburgen ;) On note of disagreement. I actually liked its lack of musical cohesion since the one of the story points is that Rose-Lynn thinks she knows herself and her musical identity but she actually hasn't found it yet (until she begins writing her own songs).

July 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I was surprised by the extent of the Wild Rose soundtrack. I think she sings-- what, four or five times in the movie?-- but there's a whole album of tunes. I guess the songs that scored some of the scenes were also Buckley without me realizing.

July 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

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