Yellow Rose

Yellow Rose ★★½

"If you're too scared to perform them songs, they won't do ya no good."

Diane Paragas expands her short film into the feature Yellow Rose, the second movie in as many years with "rose" in the title about a new young country singer working to find her voice and achieve her dreams. (Kevin wonders when we'll be able to complete "the country artist trying to find herself trilogy.") But although I dearly enjoyed Jessie Buckley in Wild Rose as a Scottish ruffian fighting her way on stage, this new film has a very different beat. With the backdrop of ICE detentions and families torn apart by "immigration reform," Eva Noblezada shines as a Filipina-American woman facing a heart-wrenching choice. Unfortunately a brutally didactic screenplay holds your hand so tightly that you have no time to feel anything else.

On the outskirts of Austin, Texas live Rose Garcia (Noblezada) and her mother Priscilla (Princess Punzalan) at a motel. Priscilla has been working hard in domestic labor since the two arrived from The Philippines years ago as undocumented immigrants, yet hopeful to stay, contribute, and live as Americans. Aside from the usual concerns of a 17-year-old girl, Rose has another outlet in her acoustic guitar and love of country music. It's not quite a secret -- classmate Elliot (Liam Booth) tries to get her to play a tune -- but her shyness makes her unwilling to share. Of course, also, she doesn't see too many country stars who look anything like her. But Eliot does get Rose to sneak out to see country artist Dale Watson (himself) at The Broken Spoke for music and drinks; ill-advised, as she imbibes too many and stays out too late. However, things are about to get much worse: ICE officials are at the motel when she returns at dawn, and Rose sees her mother arrested. Escaping unseen, Eliot takes her to the wealthy home of estranged Aunt Gail (Lea Salonga). But what comes next when Gail's husband doesn't want her there anymore? And can Rose ever realize her dream?

On the surface this is a sweet and affecting movie, and my bleeding heart is surely the target audience for a story about an undocumented family trying to find their place amidst a nation who devalues and demonizes them. There's a serious flaw though and it's due to a pretty poorly written script.

Paragas seems unable to trust the audience, and every character says aloud what a smarter film would allow them to emote. "We don't need another daughter." "They didn't want me there, and I'm finding my way here." "I'm illegal!" "I just want to make it better for you." "Sucks, but more opportunity here." "I think they call it 'undocumented.'" Paragas assumes you need every little thing spelled out, that you can't read anything into emotions and quiet moments, and that the actors are unable of any other presence but the words they speak. Some lines sound like after school special kind of stuff, and are embarrassing to watch be performed by what appear to be talented actors.

Chief among them is Noblezada, who's great when given the chance to show her performing and singing range, which is exceptional. Though I don't listen to -- and, frankly, very much dislike -- any country music, what's sung in Yellow Rose is soulful and pleasant and perfect for the vibe of this film, honest and heartfelt but with optimism and hope. I've also got to give it to country singer-songwriter Dale Watson who is fantastic playing a version of himself, boozy and forlorn but in time a crucial ally for Rose. Sure it's shoehorned a bit like everything else in this amateur screenplay, but brief moments of magic appear in-between the eye-rolling scenes.

A very mixed bag with so much potential. I'm probably being too harsh as I walked out of the theatre humming some tunes and enjoying the performances, but I'll mostly recall the heavy-handed script which treats the viewers poorly. I really really wanted to like this a lot more.

Added to The Narrative Films of 2020, ranked.

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