Yellow Rose, 2020.
Directed by Diane Paragas.
Starring Eva Noblezada, Lea Salonga, Dale Watson, Princess Punzalan, Liam Booth, Libby Villari, and Gustavo Gomez.
A Filipina teen from a small Texas town fights to pursue her dreams as a country music performer while having to decide between staying with her family or leaving the only home she has known.
Although there is nothing wrong with specificity, some films have the ability to more profoundly stand out due to being able to wring something universal out of what outwardly appears to be niche. Yellow Rose is assuredly one of those experiences. Rose (Eva Noblezada, already an established Broadway talent and Grammy winner here turning in a wonderful human performance) is a nearly 18 Filipina-American living in a Texas motel with her overprotective and conservative mother Priscilla (Princess Punzalan) that also happens to be infatuated with country music as a result of her now-deceased musician father. Asked out to a concert and a night around Austin by pretty boy music store worker Elliott (Liam Booth), Rose not only finds the courage to say yes, she convinces her mother to allow it by telling a small lie about where they will be going.
Granted, the two kids on the verge of adulthood get into some questionable antics such as underage drinking by making good use of fake IDs, it’s a release from Rose’s sheltered lifestyle and shyness when it comes to opening up more of her personality around her peers. At home, she often sings delicate and beautiful songs about not fitting in at school, nonetheless showing a considerable amount of skill and a promising future should she ever come out of her shell. In that respect, this night is her first real sense of freedom.
On the way home, the unthinkable happens as she arrives at a scene of ICE taking away her mother, who had been scammed by a lawyer and had struggled to get citizenship papers in order. Essentially, Yellow Rose is a coming-of-age musical drama, but with a twist of Rose finding herself within the first 30 or so minutes and then having the rest of her life ripped away. Life gives and it takes, something all of us can relate to. Naturally, it’s depressing and emotional to watch, especially given what the current political climate has taught us about detained undocumented immigrants. Director Diane Paragas (she has apparently been working on the movie for over 15 years, also co-writing alongside other individuals) is wisely aware that the film does not need melodramatic sequences depicting any of that. There’s one scene dialing in on the fact that Rose’s mother has been reduced to nothing more than the number, telling us everything we need to know about this system.
What follows could definitely have been executed better, but is nonetheless affecting. Rose is instructed to get in contact with her estranged aunt Gail (Lea Salonga, a brilliant singer in her own right and most known for voicing the animated versions of Mulan and Aladdin‘s Jasmine, but is disappointingly wasted here), a move that doesn’t pan out seeing as Gail’s Caucasian husband wants nothing to do with the situation. Finding her way back at the bar, Rose becomes closer friends with its manager Jolene (Libby Villari), real-life country singer Dale Watson, and her compassionate friend Elliot.
Most instrumental here is Dale Watson who is able to further unlock that talent residing inside Rose and push her one step closer towards her dreams of becoming a famous country singer. Some of the material is charted territory (recently so, as Wild Rose told a similar narrative) but the ICE background and warm performances here are enough to get the job done telling a story of two different families; blood-related and one comprised of a place of belonging. At 95 minutes some characters feel thinly sketched with certain subplots feeling a bit weak, and aspects of the ending also feel fairly rushed, but there’s no denying the passion behind and in front of the camera, not to mention the tender tunes. Yellow Rose covers familiar ground with a lived-in and authentic atmosphere (I’ve never even been to Austin yet it’s still easy to tell where the characters are based on the locations and food) suitable for hitting the narrative’s emotional beats.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com