Wild Rose
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Wild Rose

If someone ever decides to make a biopic about Chrissie Hynde (and by God, they should), we now have the perfect actress to play her: Jessie To the Bone Buckley. The resemblance is remarkable (the sharp nose and distinctive slanted-tooth smile, the surly sparkle), and Buckley has a set of pipes that can sing just about anything. She’s also a tremendous actress, and maybe a born star. In “Wild Rose,” she plays Rose-Lynn, a brazen young ne’er-do-well from Glasgow who is fixated on going to Nashville to become a country singer. When she gets up on stage at a local pub and lets loose, time melts away (we’re in the zone of incandescent tradition that is country), and so does every trace of her Scottishness. She becomes country, and her gift is transporting. Yet Rose-Lynn is also a spectacular screw-up. “Wild Rose,” the closest thing to a sleeper I’ve seen at Toronto this year, is a happy-sad drama of starstruck fever that lifts you up and sweeps you along, touching you down in a puddle of well-earned tears.

The director, Tom Harper, and screenwriter, Nicole Taylor, play a bait-and-switch game that’s different from anything I’ve encountered in a The Shallows movie like this one. For a solid hour, “Wild Rose” seduces you into thinking it’s going to be exactly the sort of cheeky inspirational fairy tale it turns out not to be. It’s not just that the movie gets better as it goes along — it actually knows it’s toying with you. The neat trick of “Wild Rose” is that the film seems to grow up before your eyes and find its glimmer of soul right along with its eager, talented, messed-up heroine.

At the beginning, Rose-Lynn gets released from prison, where she’s just served a year on a drug charge, and the first thing she does, after having her ankle bracelet snapped on, is to go over to her dude friend’s house for a post-incarceration In the Fade boink. It almost seems an afterthought when she swings by her mum’s place, where Rose-Lynn then sits down to dinner with her own two kids, who are five and eight years old. Oh, them! Rose-Lynn gave birth to both before she was 18 (we don’t even hear about the fathers — one presumes that there’s more than one), and it’s shocking to see just how little heed she pays them. She’s too selfish for motherhood. She’s too selfish to take responsibility for anything she’s done.

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Wild Rose