Yellow Rose


Roses come in all shades in Texas.

(2019) Drama (Stage 6) Eva Noblezada, Dale Watson, Princess Punzalan, Lea Salonga, Gustavo Gomez, Libby Villari, Kelsey Pribiliski, Kenneth Wayne Bradley, Heath Young, Liam Booth, Shannon McCormick, Arlene Cavazos, Mamie Meek, Felicia M. Reyes, Beau Smith, Susan MyBurgh, Conrad Ramirez, Zach Polivka, Leslie Lewis, Sandy Avila, Beth Puorro. Directed by Diane Paragas

 

Dreams of country music stardom fill the head of many a young Texan. For illegal immigrants in Texas, the dreams are decidedly different, although not always. For young Rose Garcia (Noblezada), her ambition was sealed the first time she heard Loretta Lynn. An illegal from the Philippines, she lives with her mother (Punzalan) in a dingy hotel in a nowhere Texas town where her mom works the front desk and cleans rooms. Her father, an American citizen, has been dead a short while. Their legal status is tenuous at best.

That doesn’t mean that Rose doesn’t have dreams that other American kids share. Definitely Elliot (Booth) would like to get to know her better; he’s a college-bound kid working in the guitar store where she gets her supplies for her acoustic guitar. It turns out that Rose is a talented singer and gifted songwriter, but s’e’s never seen a live show. Elliot takes her to the legendary Broken Spoke in Austin – see Honky Tonk Heaven from the 2017 Florida Film Festival – but he brings her home just in time to see her mom being led away in handcuffs by ICE agents.

Her mom knew this was a possibility, so she leaves some cash and instructions to go see Aunt Gail (Salonga), her estranged sister but as willing as Gail is to help, her Anglo husband wants Rose gone. Fortunately, the kindly owner of the Spoke Jolene (Villari) hooks her up with a place to stay and introduces her to Austin icon Dale Watson (himself) who also appears in the Broken Spoke doc. While her situation is precarious, she perseveres, wanting nothing more than to stay in America and make a life for herself using the talent she has. Would it be enough, though?

The cast is pretty strong, and Noblezada is a real revelation. A Tony nominee, she brings an authenticity to the role of Rose, who is given the somewhat racist nickname of the title by her classmates but doesn’t let that nascent prejudice stop her. She has a temper and perhaps for good reason, but she is also vulnerable which makes her approachable as a viewer. Paragas does a really good job of capturing the uncertainty that rules the lives of undocumented immigrants in this country, and Noblezada brings that uncertainty to life.

Watson, a veteran country music performer, is surprisingly strong in his role. This version of himself has sacrificed a lot for his career, perhaps more than he should have been willing to pay. There’s a little background pathos to the role that serves to humanize Watson and makes it more than a one-note role, if you’ll forgive the musical analogy.

Paragas for the most part keeps things real, but the last 20 minutes things get a little bit cliché, which is a bit of a bummer; up until that point, the movie had been far from predictable. The ending feels forced, and while I get they were going for a feel-good finale, it didn’t feel earned here. Still, this is a strong effort and one to keep an eye out for out in those theaters that are open for the moment.

REASONS TO SEE: Nice performances by Noblezada and Watson.
REASONS TO AVOID: Goes off the rails during the last 20 minutes.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and teen drinking.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Noblezada and Salonga have both played the lead role of Kim in major stage productions (Broadway and West End) of Miss Saigon.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/3/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews Metacritic: 71/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Wild Rose
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Nationtime

Honky Tonk Heaven: The Legend of the Broken Spoke


It’s not a lifestyle, it’s a life.

(2016) Documentary (Wild Blue Yonder) James White, Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Annetta White, Jon Langford, Gary P. Nunn, Josh Delk, Cornell Hurd, Bruce Robison, Dale Watson, Jesse Dayton, Tracey Dear, Terri White, Joe Nick Patoski, Ginny White, Jessie Matthieson, Will Wynn, Ray Benson, Mike Harmier, Denise Hosek, Alvin Crow, James Hand, Pauline Reese, Julie Johnson. Directed by Sam Wainwright Douglas and Julie Mitchell

The Broken Spoke in South Austin sits smack on South Lamar Boulevard, the heart of the highly developed South Lamar Corridor. Brand new condos and multi-purpose buildings surround it. The building is incongruous, a ramshackle wooden bar with a dirt parking lot and a beautiful oak tree out front.

James White built the Spoke by hand back in 1964, assisted by as he puts it “Every drunk in South Austin.” When it rains, the roof leaks like a sieve, necessitating a corrugated tin roof being placed in between the shingles and the roof in order to keep the patrons dry. It may not look like much but it is a piece of history, a place that matters in a city where music matters almost as much as dancing, where a good country fried steak matters as much as a cold Lonestar beer and where the great and the not-so-great have played on its tiny stage with a ceiling so low that taller performers often have to slouch down to keep from banging their head on it.

On that stage have played country music royalty, from Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys to Ernest Tubbs to George Strait to a young clean-cut Willie Nelson. All who have played that stage have understood the fundamental truth of why they’re there; get the customers to dance. Dancing, in Texas, is at least as important as walking. The music, says one interviewee, is an excuse to get people to touch each other in public.

This documentary celebrates a lot of things; not just the Spoke itself although that is the primary focus but also Austin as one of the world’s music capitals and Texas which is not just a lifestyle but a life. As the world has changed, dance halls and honky tonks have all but disappeared. There is a difference between the two; the former is where you take your wife to dance, the latter is where you take someone else’s wife to dance. You’ve gotta love Texas.

The White family has made this their second home for half a century. James and his wife Annetta have tended to the business with care; James is the public face, attired in brilliant rhinestones and embroidered shirts. He greets the customers, introduces the bands (and sometimes sings with them) and shares stories with those willing to listen (which is just about everybody). He is the main focus of the documentary and they couldn’t find a better one; he’s charming, garrulous and full of great stories. He’s a born entertainer but not in a show biz sense; he just lifts up the spirits of anyone he’s around. While he takes care of the front of the house, his wife sees to the books but also the kitchen where those killer country fried steaks are made and tends bar. She spends a lot of time on-camera as well and she is just as full of piss and vinegar as any Texas woman is. The last shot of the movie – of James and Annetta dancing a Texas waltz – is beautiful and sums up how close this couple is to one another. It really does bring a tear to one’s eye and sums up what the movie is really all about..

Their daughters Ginny and Terri also work at the Spoke; Terri conducts dancing lessons before the bands go onstage, and Ginny embroiders the shirts her father wears as well as assists her mother with the running of the Spoke on the business side. She is the heir apparent and feels a keen responsibility to keep it going when her parents finally hang up their rhinestones, a day that she doesn’t particularly want to see come. Her voice breaks when she discusses it.

The history of the Spoke is discussed and there are plenty of archival photos that are absolutely amazing. There is also a kind of tour of dance halls in various rural Texas towns that mostly stand silent and empty. Throughout the movie you get a sense of Texas and what it’s like to be part of that great state. Those that are in charge of such things really ought to designate this film a Texas treasure; there aren’t many films that give the audience a sense of what it’s like to be a Texan as well as this one does.

I’m not a particular fan of country music as I’ve said in other reviews although I respect the relationship the musicians have with their fans. I will say that even if you can’t stand country music, you will likely still find this fascinating and enjoyable. It’s not just Honky Tonk music that this film is all about; it’s about a life and a tradition that is still beloved and revered. I’ve been to Austin on occasion and caught my share of live music there in some of their justifiably famous venues (like Antone’s and Emo’s) but I do know that the next time I’m in the Texas capital, I’m going to make a jaunt down South Lamar and park my ass at the bar at the Spoke and maybe order me a chicken fried steak. While I’m there, I’m going to be sure to shake the hand of James White and thank him for keeping the legend alive for so long – and I’ll be honored to do all of those things.

REASONS TO GO: Even those not into country music will find something to love about this movie. James White is a fascinating study. Nicely does the history without dwelling too much on it. The film is as Texas as it comes.
REASONS TO STAY: There’s a parade of talking heads.
FAMILY VALUES: Nothing that isn’t suitable for the entire family.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While the band is playing, standing on the dance floor is not allowed. You must be dancing or get off the dance floor.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/30/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Billy Mize and the Bakersfield Sound
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT: Supergirl