(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