LFF 2018: Wild Rose

Year: 2018
Directed by: Tom Harper
Starring: Julie Walters, Jessie Buckley, Sophie Okonedo

Written by Sarah Buddery

With A Star is Born tearing up the box office and its sights set on the big awards, Wild Rose is in many ways the UK’s answer to the Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga fronted film. Very much an underdog movie in more ways than one, Wild Rose’s story may be familiar – a small-town girl with big dreams – and whilst it doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights of the aforementioned crowd-pleaser, it is a wondrous little film that deserves far more attention than it will likely get.

Rose-Lynn (Buckley) is a feisty Glaswegian single mum who, after her release from prison, takes up a cleaning job whilst dreaming of flying to Nashville and pursuing her dreams of being a Country singer. The juxtaposition of the gloomy Glasgow skies and the “bright lights” of Nashville perfectly represent the pull between her role as a mother, and her chance to do what she loves across the pond.

What is so wonderful about Wild Rose is that Rose-Lynn’s dreams are small, she doesn’t necessarily want mega-stardom, and in fact her dreams only really span as far as getting to Nashville and there is something so charming about this. She is also someone prepared to work hard to achieve her dream, and even when the shortcuts to success present themselves to her, she approaches things with a certain degree of humility. Country music for her is her passion, her life, her reason for existing, and she simply wants nothing more than to go to the place that birthed the genre of music she treasures.

In similar stories, a character like Rose-Lynn would run the risk of seeming shallow or one-note, but she is also a person who behaves rather selfishly at times, particularly when it comes to bringing up her children. This means we as the audience feel equally torn between her two lives, much as she does herself. Julie Walters, as Rose-Lynn’s mother, provides the voice of reason in many ways, and the grounding of the character in her home-town. Watching their relationship play out is so beautiful, and the final payoff feels well-earned. There is real earnestness to these characters; they feel fleshed out and genuine, and the excellent performances are to thank for this.

Jessie Buckley as Rose-Lynn is simply revelatory. Her big voice and commanding presence seem to come out of nowhere but yet are also totally believable; her talent coming as naturally to her as breathing. She is head-to-toe “country”, but rather than appearing as if a caricature, there is an innocent quality to her that makes her so endearing. Buckley toes that line between brash and humble so beautifully, and we as the audience feel fully invested in her from the moment the film starts. Julie Walters is an absolute treasure, and as the dependable matriarch, she carries much of the film’s weight and emotion.

Wild Rose is a rapturous, crowd-pleaser of a film with toe-tapping songs and a star-making performance from Jessie Buckley, supported by the always dependable Walters. It might be a little cheesy and predictable in places, but it is a pure and spirited film that will make your heart soar and encourage you to always dream big. A truly underrated musical gem of a movie.

SARAH’S VERDICT:

4

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LFF 2018: Wildlife

Year: 2018
Directed by: Paul Dano
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Carey Mulligan, Bill Camp, Ed Oxenbould

Written by Sarah Buddery

Arguably one of the most underrated actors out there, Paul Dano brings his directorial debut to LFF, also competing in the First Feature category. Known for choosing diverse and interesting roles, Dano equally brings a unique perspective to the family drama in the exceptionally beautiful Wildlife.

Initially painting the picture of idyllic family life, Wildlife is a slow burning film that gradually and carefully peels back the layers as the cracks begin to show, and the initial muted pastel colour palette eventually giving way to something richer and darker alongside this.

We view the story through the eyes of teenager Joe (exceptionally played by relative newcomer Ed Oxenbould), as his mother Jeanette (Mulligan) and Jerry (Gyllenhaal) start to drift apart from each other. This is a bold and deliberate move on Dano’s part to tell the story in this way, and indeed it is the innocence of Joe that helps make this story so captivating. Both Jeanette and Jerry visibly change throughout the course of the film, and when viewed through Joe’s eyes, we see his subtle change as well as he grows and becomes self-sufficient.

Wildlife is a devastating portrait of a fractured family unit, and the exquisitely crafted characters are written and played with such a richness. Mulligan, in particular, is absolutely sensational. There is a wonderful subtlety to her reactions, and indeed across all of the performances in this film, it is perhaps the silence and the moments of lingering pause that speak louder than anything else. It is so much a film about the things left unsaid, and there is a beautiful quietness to the writing of Dano and Zoe Kazan, and Dano’s tender direction.

This is an accomplished debut from Dano, and it takes great boldness and courage to keep things this paired back and simple, whilst still showing a great eye and visual flair. Wildlife is quietly devastating, tonally melancholic and truly beautiful in its depiction of brokenness. The directorial career of Paul Dano will undoubtedly be watched with as much interest as his acting career following this.

SARAH’S VERDICT:

4

LFF 2018: Beautiful Boy

Year: 2018
Directed by: Felix Van Groeningen
Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Steve Carrell, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan

Written by Dave Curtis

Just imagine being a parent to a child that is a drug addict. Beautiful Boy shows meth addiction and its recovery through the eyes of writer David Sheff (Steve Carrell), who watches his talented son Nic (Timothée Chalamet) as he struggles with his addiction. This is adapted from David & Nic Sheff’s memoirs and their real-life experiences.

Beautiful Boy does the hard job and shows the true horror of drug addiction, not only the damage it does to the user but also to their family and friends. It is hard to watch Nic’s plight. This isn’t just a film about taking drugs and the recovery which leads to a happy ending, this is the long and unflinching portrait of addiction.

This is a story of two sides – first Nic’s life with drugs, and the second is his father David’s and his attempts in trying to save his firstborn. The theme is set right from the first scene. David is asking advice about meth addiction and how can he help his son. The tone has been set.

Chalamet continues to show his talents (he really does remind me of a young Leonardo DiCaprio) and is the heartbeat of the picture. His slow and desperate fall is not only subtle but it also shows the respect to those that have been through it in real life. He is never over the top, showing he has done some research into the role. In less prepared hands this could have been a disaster. Steve Carrell offers strong support in yet another serious role. He does his best work when he has minimal dialogue. A terrific scene in a café (a location that means a lot to them both) offers the chance for the film to show its true colours and really show how good the two leads are. Nic clearly high on drugs is begging his Dad for money, and David can longer bring himself to help his son. It is truly heart-breaking.

It is a shame to report the supporting cast don’t have a lot to work with. David’s ex-wife Vicki (Amy Ryan) and his current wife Karen (Maura Tierney) characters are barely developed. Karen just paints and Vicki gets angry on the phone. That’s it.

Director Felix Van Groeningen has made of a few missteps. Some the editing feels a little rushed, and the timeline is littered with flashbacks and it gets a bit confusing of when its meant to be. It doesn’t help that Steve Carrell never ages. There are also a few pointless scenes, including a shower scene which is particularly odd and out of place. It is uncomfortably long. There are also issues with some scenes which feel like overly long montages with the music turned up to 11.

Sadly the film itself doesn’t match up to the two lead actors’ performances. Steve Carrell and Timothee Chalamet match each other every step of the way. Beautiful Boy is as heart-breaking as it is uplifting. It may not reach the heights it wants but thanks to the chemistry of the two leads it is worth a watch.

DAVE’S VERDICT:

3