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VOD Review: Yellow Rose

January 5, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

A Filipino girl, who is living in Texas as an undocumented immigrant, dreams of being a country music star. This simple logline, which could have easily been the premise behind an exploitive movie of the week, instead provides the basis for the often touching Yellow Rose.

Directed, produced and co-written by Diane Paragas, Yellow Rose works as both an immigration drama and a music film, blending timely themes with an unexpected but very good country music soundtrack. The film is often equally effective on both fronts, offering something that feels both real and somewhat hopeful.

The main character is Rose Garcia (Eva Noblezada), a seventeen year old living in a Texas motel with her mother Priscilla (Princess Punzalan). In the opening scenes, we see Rose listening to Loretta Lynn and wearing a red cowboy hat, very much wanting to fit in with the dominant culture around her. One of her prized possessions is a guitar that was left behind by her late father, using it to compose country songs informed by her unique experience.

When Elliot (Liam Booth), the teen boy who works the counter at the music store where she buys her guitar strings, invites her to catch a show at the classic country music hall The Broken Spoke in Austin, her world opens up, only to come crashing down shortly after. Rose returns to a raid on the motel, and her mother being taken into custody by ICE. The trouble is that they are both undocumented, putting her mother at risk of being deported to the Philippines, and sending Rose on the run.

Rose goes to live with her Tita Gail (Lea Salonga), but soon decides to strike out and find her own way in the world. Setting out with her guitar case in hand and her belongings in a garbage bag slung over her shoulder, Rose finds refuge at The Broken Spoke, thanks to the kindness of the manager Jolene (Libby Villari). It’s here that she catches the attention of country singer Dale Watson (playing himself), who becomes a mentor to her, and helps her hone her songwriting skills. But the threat of being captured by ICE hangs over her head.

Yes, some of the story beats here are cliched, but there is also a hardscrabble quality to Rose’s story that makes it feel more authentic. Noblezada, a stage actress who starred in the Broadway revival of Miss Saigon, does good work in the role, very capably doing her own singing as well. Instead of turning her into a victim of anything other than the immigration system, Paragas presents Rose as a young woman who is determined to forge her own path in the world, despite not “looking like” other country music fans and being considered illegal by the country she has spent years living in.

It’s a somewhat refreshing approach to an immigration story, allowing for some more normal teenage drama to seep in as well, and making the moments when ICE agents do come knocking feel even more jarring and upsetting within the film. Rose’s unlikely journey to become a country singer, despite her atypical background for the profession, is engaging enough in its own right, with the threat of being detained and deported adding an interesting obstacle to her pursuit of the American Dream.

The soundtrack features a number of original songs co-written by Watson that help propel the story forward and are quite appealing in their own right. At 94 minutes long, the film itself is a well-paced crowdpleaser with enough broad cross-cultural and cross-political appeal to reach a wider audience, giving it the ability to inspire more compassion in people regarding undocumented immigrants.

Yellow Rose is now available to watch on a variety of digital and VOD platforms, and is being released on DVD this week by Sony Pictures Classics.

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