Julie Walters

Wild Rose

First Hit: A more realistic version of a star being born.

I’m old enough to remember seeing two of the four most noted theatrical versions of “A Star is Born” in movie theaters: The recent 2018 version with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga (given name Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta), and the 1976 version, with Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. I have also seen a television replay of the 1954 version with Judy Garland and James Mason, and the 1937 version with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. In these films, it was always the feeling at the beginning of these films that a star would be born, and their name would appear in lights - everywhere.

In Wild Rose, the feeling is different. In so many turns, Rose-Lynn (Jessie Buckley) acts out in un-mindful ways. She just doesn’t seem to get it that her impulsive, loud, party-like, good time girl behavior and impressive singing voice isn’t enough to make her a country singing star, especially being from and living in Glasgow, Scotland. We get why she says, “I should have been born in America.” She appears to have little understanding of what it takes to become this idealized dream she has for herself.

The film opens with her packing up her map of Nashville and personal belongings because she is getting out of prison after being incarcerated for twelve months. Part of the restriction for her release is that she’ll have to wear an electronic ankle bracelet. We know this is going to become an issue in the film.

We see her first go to her boyfriend’s house. After a physically impassioned visit, she heads to her mother’s home where she is coldly greeted by her mother, Marion (Julie Walters). We also learn that her mother has been taking care of Rose’s two children, Wynonna, and Lyle (Daisy Littlefield and Adam Mitchell, respectively). Marion has been taking care of the children during the time Rose-Lynn was incarcerated, and we get the sense, many other times as well.

Upon seeing their mother, Wynonna is distant towards Rose and Lyle is expressively happy to see his mom.

It wasn’t lost on me that Rose’s love for country music was also expressed in the names of her children as they are named after country music legends Wynonna Judd and Lyle Lovett.

Having to begin to take responsibility for her children, she finds a cleaning job at the home of a wealthy woman named Susannah (Sophie Okonedo) who has two children herself. Susannah’s children hear Rose sing while she’s working and tell their mom. Her mom convinces Rose to make an electronic recording on their computer which eventually makes it to the BBC country music radio host Bob Harris.

Bob invites her to London to meet with him. She is excited about this opportunity but ends up getting drunk while partying with a group of blokes on the train and then discovers that her purse, phone, money, and ID have been pinched. Rose tries to blame the train personnel, the woman sitting across from where she left her bag and her lot in life. She doesn’t get that she’s her own problem. One of the themes of this film.

Leaving the train station, she runs through London and ends up being late for her meeting with Bob Harris, but Bob meets with her anyway. He asks her if she plays an instrument or writes a song to which Rose says “no.” He says she’s got to have something to say to be a singer. This is the first clue that she may not make it as her dreams had hoped she would.

Slowly, Rose starts taking responsibility for her children and her life. She makes a home for her kids and begins taking an interest in their lives. The children feel this change of heart and start warming up to their mom.

The film continues with wonderfully staged scenes where Rose gets the opportunity to grow and learn about being a parent and her wish to be a country star. There’s the undying support from Susannah, then the talk with Susannah’s husband in the car, multiple discussions with her mother, including one where her mother takes a chance on her daughter. There’s are beautiful scenes in Nashville, where she really sees that being a country singer is a lot more than “three chords and the truth” (references a tattoo and belief on Rose’s arm).

The ending scene is filled with deep emotion and the realization of what it means to be both a mother and an outstanding country singer.

Buckley is sublime as Rose-Lynn. She encapsulates in both action and heart this young woman who has a dream but has to learn how to grow into her life. When Rose looks through her children’s knapsacks, my heart was warmed. When she started partying on the train to London, I felt myself saying, oh no, this isn’t going to turn out well. Walters was earnestly compelling as Rose’s mother, who also had to learn the difference between being responsible and a child’s hope. Littlefield and Mitchell were great as the children. I thought Littlefield’s slow growth towards trusting that her mom would be there for her was insanely perfect. Okonedo was terrific in her role as Rose’s boss and inspired supporter. Nicole Taylor wrote an outstanding script that told a compelling story of growth, responsibility, and understanding. Tom Harper made all the characters come alive and have a purpose in this story.

Overall: This film was indeed about a human star being born.

Brooklyn

First Hit:  This film shares a wonderful heartfelt story with remarkable acting and stunning visuals representing the 1950’s.

Irish immigration to the US and specifically to Brooklyn during the 1950’s (the 3rd wave) is highlighted in this film.

The film does give homage to an earlier 2nd wave of Irish Immigration to the US by sharing information about how they built a lot of the infrastructure in eastern US cities. Knowing that by 1860 or so, one quarter of New York City’s population was Irish, when we join this story we are aware of Irish influence in the city.

This story begins with Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) living with her mom and sister in a small Irish town. She works as a clerk in Miss Kelly’s (Brid Brennan) small store. Where Eilis has a quiet caring heart Miss Kelly is mean and spiteful. This life is weighing Eilis down, so her sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) sets her up with a Visa and a job in New York City.

Afraid and excited, she leaves on a ship only to land in a repressive boarding house run by Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters) and working as a clerk in a fancy department store. She is lonely and sad, misses her family, and is terribly homesick. All this changes when she meets a young Italian plumber named Tony (Emory Cohen). He is totally smitten by her and while she’s slowly warming up to the attention and affection, Tony blurts out his love for Eilis.

The scenes of them together are amazingly precious. The first meal at his family’s house is ripe for enjoyment. Then there are scenes at the Ms. Kehoe’s boarding house dinner table that are simply funny, witty and insightful to the plight of these young girls trying to find a life in New York City.

Then there are the heartfelt and decisive scenes back in Ireland when Eilis returns to pay her respects to her recently deceased sister. The heart pulling wish of her mother wanting her to stay and not go back to New York, along with her ability to see her old friends as well as being seen as someone who is beautiful and smart makes her wonder about staying.

Ronan is beyond wonderful. She gave the kind of performance that elevates her incredible resume. I loved her as a young curious and confused girl named Briony in “Atonement”. She sparkled physically and intensely as the assassin in “Hanna”. Here she gives a deeply moving and evolving portrait as a women coming into her own. This is a great actress. Cohen is so wonderfully charming in his role, you just cannot help but love him here. Walters is perfect as the strict matron of her boarding house, trying to keep her women on solid respectful footing. Glascott was perfect as the thoughtful sister. Brennan was on point as a sharp, pushy, and mean store owner. Jim Broadbent as Father Flood was flawlessly cast as Eilis’s rock during her first months in the US. Nick Hornby wrote a dazzling screen play capturing the feel of the time and the intent of Colm Toibin’s novel. John Crowley captured the innocence, despair, history, and feeling of the time perfectly.

Overall:  Wonderful to watch, beautiful to feel.

Mamma Mia

First Hit: It was fun and you could tell the actors had fun making it.

I’m not a musical fan, however a friend asked me to go see Mamma Mia and I said "yes".

I saw the play many years ago in London and was amused that ABBA songs were gathered together and made into a play, therefore I had some idea about what I was going to see.

In the film Meryl Streep plays the mom (Donna) who is just barely making it running a beaten down hotel on a Greek island. Her daughter Sophie (played by Amanda Seyfried) is getting married and wants to know who her father is. She finds her mother’s diary and discovers it could be any one of three men and therefore invites them to the wedding without her mother’s knowledge.

The three men are Sam (played by Pierce Brosnan), Bill (played by Stellan Skarsgard), and Harry (played by Colin Firth). Supporting Donna in this quest to put on the wedding are her two friends Tanya (played by Christine Baranski) and Julie (played by Julie Walters).

The overall premise is; can Sophie figure out who her father is prior to the wedding.

As musicals go, I liked many of the ABBA songs when they first came out and I still like some of them today. However, some seem a bit out of place like "Winner Takes it All" because I couldn’t figure out who was the winner. Was Donna singing about herself or Sam (or somebody else ???)? Although many of the actors can sing (especially Steep and Baranski), Bronson gives it a go and, despite his full on efforts, his singing is difficult to listen to. Lastly, it needs to be pointed out, from a chronological point of view, things didn’t quite add up (how can we be in today’s time while Sophie was a mid-early hippy baby and playing a early 20 year old).

Overall: The film was really fun (ABBA songs can be fun) because the actors had fun, but from a film and story point of view, one has to suspend making it work.

Becoming Jane

First Hit: A somewhat tepid film with some nice emotional moments and left me wondering about Jane’s life.

I don’t know much about Jane Austen and I don’t think this film provides much factual information in this way, however it did leave me curious about her life and that is probably a good thing.

There were only moments in the film where I thought I was seeing or experiencing Jane Austin. However the last scenes when we were experiencing an older Jane I felt a congruence about the character and the previous experiences shared in the film. This pulled the film together.

In thinking back on the title of the film, if the scenes that were shown created this wonderful writer, I guess I would have liked a few more scenes with the mature, grown up, accomplished writer to see what she had turned into.

It is like the film left that up to the books Jane wrote and unless one has read them, then... I liked most of the other characters Julie Walters and James Cromwell are good as her parents and James McAvoy is solid as the young man Jane falls for and learns from.

Laurence Fox as Mr. Wisley, grew on me in the film and the flashes of insightful intelligence work with his social bumbling with Jane.

Overall, a nice film, nothing to write home about.