Thursday, October 08, 2020

Yellow Rose: As Country As It Gets

Rose Garcia sounds pretty Texan and loves country music, but she originally hails from the Philippines. She mostly grew up in the Lone Star State, but she is an immigrant—the undocumented kind. This inconvenient fact will cause her considerable hardship, but that in turn will be fodder for some legit old school country songs in director-screenwriter-producer Diane Paragas’s Yellow Rose, which opens in physical theaters tomorrow.

Garcia has been self-conscious about performing ever since some knuckle-dragging students called her “Yellow Rose” during a school talent show. Yet, she kept working on songs. That is how she caught the eye of Elliott Blatnik, an open-minded music store clerk. Unfortunately, Garcia must de-prioritize their budding romance when her mother is apprehended by the dreaded ICE and held for likely deportation.

At this point, Garcia feels culturally at-home in Texas, so she intends to stay, but it will not be easy. Since the native-born husband of her aunt Gail makes it disgustingly obvious she is not welcome, Garcia finds shelter in the back room of Jolene’s small but authentic Austin club instead. However, when the club is raided by those dastardly ICE agents, Garcia starts crashing in country hipster Dale Watson’s Airstream trailer. The old cat is not about to pull any funny business, but he could become an unlikely mentor to Garcia.

Pretty much everything in
Yellow Rose proceeds according to the standard underdog-chasing-her-dreams formula, but the cast is so earnest, they make it work anyway. Broadway star Eva Noblezada easily transitions to the screen, doing some impressively expressive and engaging work as Garcia. She also develops some terrific protégé-teacher chemistry with Dale Watson (one of the stars of the Stephen King book musical, Ghost Brothers of Darkland County), essentially playing a boozily self-aware analog of himself. His earthy charisma really pops off the screen.

Yet, Christopher H. Knight’s original songs are probably the most important reason the film clicks to the extent that it does. The lyrics of “Square Peg,” “Circumstance,” and “I Ain’t Going Down” are really quite memorable and speak directly to the highs and lows Garcia experiences. Noblezada’s rapport with Watson definitely extends to their shared musical performances. The soundtrack (also releasing digitally this Friday) could possibly even popularize contemporary country music with decidedly untraditional demographics, if enough people give the film a chance.

When it comes to addressing ICE and DACA, Paragas is clearly not afraid to didactically hit the audience over the head, but she handles her young cast and characters with great sensitivity. She also conveys a sense of Austin, as a place and a welcoming attitude, that is quite appealing. The film never really surprises, but it is impossible to dislike its striving spirit. Recommended for fans of country music and young-musician-coming-of-age movies,
Yellow Rose opens tomorrow (10/9) in brick-and-mortar theaters.