Sunday 30 April 2023

Movie Review: Rambling Rose (1991)

Genre: Drama
Director: Martha Coolidge
Starring: Laura Dern, Robert Duvall, Diane Ladd, Lukas Haas, John Heard
Running Time: 112 minutes

Synopsis: During the Great Depression in rural Georgia, Rose (Laura Dern) is hired as the live-in housekeeper for Mr. and Mrs. Hillyer (Robert Duvall and Diane Ladd) and their three children, including 13-year-old Buddy (Lukas Haas). Rose is escaping a troubled background where she was forced in to prostitution. She falls in love with Mr. Hillyer, and in turn Buddy develops a crush on Rose. Mrs. Hillyer grows to admire the sexually spirited but good-at-heart Rose, and defends her through a series of misadventures.

What Works Well: The adaptation of Calder Willingham's book is enlivened by the quirks of the Hillyer family. Mrs. Hillyer is a slightly deaf early feminist studying for a Master's degree, Mr. Hillyer is stern but loving, and the kids are smarter and sassier than their age suggests. With Rose's thunderbolt sexuality a perfect catalyst, most of the family's actions and reactions are unconventional, allowing director Martha Coolidge sly access to humorous sparks amidst the undercurrents of lust and romance. Laura Dern (liberated but frazzled) and Diane Ladd (progressive but vulnerable) deliver standout performances.

What Does Not Work As Well: The structure is episodic and ultimately repetitive, the second half noticeably losing momentum with underdeveloped secondary characters rotating in and out of random shenanigans. The bookend structure featuring the grown-up Buddy (John Heard) adds nothing, and the final scene is painfully misguided.

Conclusion: This rose has both beauty and thorns.

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