Director: Mark Rydell
Cast: Bette Midler, Frederic Forrester, Alan Bates
Plot: Rock star Rose (Midler) is an alcoholic mess, her life crumbling around her, but forced to continue on her self-destructive lifestyle, as it is what sells out concert tickets for her manager.
The Rose isn’t a perfect film, weighed down too much by a few dud performances and a few leaden plot points, but I have to admit that it is a very interesting one, opening up some debates on the character of the Rose, and the handful of rock stars that it is mimicking.
Bette Midler is terrific as the leading heroine, a true queen of Rock n Roll. Her first appearance in the film summarises everything we need to know about the character. A plane touches down on a runway, a successful music manager waits in a nearby car and hordes of groupies begin piling out. Accompanied by an electrifying soundtrack, it is everything we imagined from the world of a rock star, essentially cool. Then Midler, the Rose, emerges, dressed up in unforgettable clothes, tall and formidable. A star in the making. But something is not quite right. As she makes her way down the stairs, there is something forceful about her posture, building up into a slight stumble on the last step, a half-finished bottle of Southern Comfort falling from her purse and smashing on the floor. She needs help from the manager to make the final walk to the car. This neat, little scene illustrates everything we need to know to get us up to date on the character. On the surface, she is everything we expect, but read in between the lines and you will see a fractured, broken human being. The next scene cements the imagined power the celebrity has. A diva she might be, but she has no control over her life. She begs her manager for a year off from her destructive career, but is point-blank refused. She is marched from tour to tour, forced into meeting and greeting important people and trapped in this loop that is slowly killing her. The only time she ever seems in control is the moment she steps up onto that stage. The director is great at showing the change in power from the instant she walks onto a concert arena. Sometimes she is so wasted or high, she needs to be dragged to that point, but when she crosses the line, muscle memory takes over. The concert scenes are wonderfully done, easily the best moments in the film. It is shot like an actual televised gig, but with a few changes. The most obvious one is a focus on Bette Midler’s face, so she gets to express her characters emotions, as she sings the songs. A few lyrics hit close to home and we can see the pain and heartbreak on her face, as she belts out a power ballad, therapy for her life-draining existence.
Outside of the singing, Rose is more akin to a child. Her career is so demanding, she seeks solace in the smaller things. An argument with a manager is forgotten, simply because she cannot bear to be powerless, quickly turning to a beaming smile. She runs into the arms of handsome strangers and turns to alcohol and drugs, almost as if they are a ‘how-to guide’ on being a rock star. Rose’s biggest problem is the fact she isn’t quite sure what she wants. There are points when she almost escapes this deadly pattern, but is dragged back to her old ways, because she isn’t quite sure how to go about anything else. It becomes a movie where we constantly seeing the character being offered redemption, only to throw it away. She storms back into her hometown, but has no idea how to be that quiet, local girl. She meets her idol and gets in his face, confused about how to be anyone that isn’t a loud, out-of-control musician. Her lover, Frederic Forrester, has a fair few abusive arguments with the character, but it is a little hard to feel too angry towards the character. He is trying to get Rose on the straight and narrow, but is constantly looking after her, rather than being a boyfriend in a functioning relationship. It is also painfully noticeable how Rose becomes a source of corruption for those around her. This is clear when she picks up a man, training for the military, on one of her childish whims and takes him to a gig, subjecting him to the life of a rock star that could cut off any hopes of a military career. I wouldn’t go as far as saying we never like the character of Rose, but we are always aware that she is a ticking time bomb and often a danger to those around her.
Maybe this movie is asking the question: is it all worth it? The film shines in the concert scenes, because, all of a sudden, it is difficult to see Rose as this childish rock star and see her as a very talented person. Her singing is incredible and the way she plays with a crowd is entertaining. We see her face light up with passion, her true calling suddenly illuminated. The alcohol and drugs are forgotten, as soon as the music starts. But does this truly forgive the things both she and her manager do? Alan Bates’ performance might be one of the things that stops this movie from being as entertaining as I wanted it to be, but in the later scenes, we see that quiet doubt flickering behind his eyes, as he questions whether he is walking a girl to her deathbed. We really do get this impression that Rose’s life is a series of quick fixes (feeding her addictions, humouring her impulses), just to get her to that next concert. Perhaps this happens too often in today’s culture.
Final Verdict: The Rose walks us through a brutally honest portrayal of a musician on a downward spiral. Some great rock songs don’t hurt either.