Since its introduction to popular culture in 1931, a steady influx of migrants from across the globe travel to the United States of America with the worthwhile goal of living the so-called American Dream. They leave their homelands, risking discrimination and deportation, in search of a better life in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Yellow Rose painstakingly dramatizes this fear of being unceremoniously uprooted from the American way of life that immigrants have gotten used to. Framed as an underdog story, the film tells the sympathetic tale of Rose Garcia, a Filipina in Texas chasing her dreams of being a country musician despite the looming danger of deportation.
Boasting starring turns from Broadway heavyweights Eva Noblezada and Lea Salonga and legendary Pinay soap opera actress Princess Punzalan, writer and director Diane Paragas dives headfirst into a musical biopic with a cry for reform for her debut feature. Both gritty and hopeful, Yellow Rose provides an eerie introspection on the human cost of unjust American immigration laws.
The eyes of Texas
Clearly inspired by Funny Girl and its ilk, Paragas delivers a unique take on the classic tale of a musician’s rise to stardom. By pairing it with the diasporic theme of seeking belongingness in a foreign land, the episodic screenplay places Noblezada’s Rose Garcia in situations where she interacts with characters who test her persistence and integrity.
Stripping the film of grandiose opening overtures and upbeat 11 o’clock numbers, Noblezada trades these Broadway staples with cathartic emotional outbursts, charmingly innocent effervescence, and effortless physicality while mapping the film’s lead character. Being omnipresent in most of the film’s scenes, Noblezada also forges undeniable chemistry with every member of the ensemble cast.
On the other hand, Punzalan as Priscilla Garcia, Rose’s mother, is also one of the film’s highlights, serving as the avenue to demonstrate the mistreatment by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Meanwhile, Liam Booth as Elliot Blatnik, surprises in a role that could have been dismissed as a token love interest if miscast, embodying the warmth needed for the character to be charismatic and likable. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast suffers from lacking any memorable character development. The result is a series of missed opportunities to define supporting characters with distinguishable quirks or individual motivations.
Like a velvet chair in a dusty saloon
When the film chooses to capture the idyllic charm of middle America, an air of nostalgia seemingly brushes over the screen. With music video-style montages similar to 2018’s A Star is Born, the rhythmic editing and sweeping cinematography immerse the viewer into the euphoria that Rose experiences within country music.
This is mainly achieved through the original country songs written by Paragas and Dale Watson and produced by Christopher Hoyt Knight that effectively communicate Rose’s thoughts and feelings. The instantly memorable Square Peg expresses Rose’s mental turmoil with her belongingness in America, while Circumstance doubles as an extension of this frustration, with lyrics like “Every move I make is the same old groove.” A natural conclusion to this set of songs, I Ain’t Going Down, reminiscent of prolific country producer Dave Cobb’s work, has the soundtrack’s most aggressive and empowering lyrics as it encapsulates the film’s optimism for the future. But the best song in the film is Quietly Into the Night, a guitar-driven lullaby documenting Rose’s independent spirit at its absolute infancy.
However, the calmness takes over only half of the film, with the other half dealing with the consequences of America’s immigration laws on Rose’s life. Working in contrast with the film’s initial smooth flow, this section reluctantly embraces a darker tone with thriller film staples like disjointed editing, disorienting dutch angles, and naturalistic handheld camerawork. Taking guitars and natural percussion out of the equation, Knight’s score morphs into synth-driven tracks with somber piano melodies brought to the forefront. This melancholic instrumentation, while different from the country compositions, is still a faithful window into Rose’s emotions.
Into the night
Though a bold idea, the film’s duality is not given time to fully flesh itself out. The two halves of this film could be great stand-alone movies, but don’t make for a comprehensible watch when spliced together. This results in an uneven film that bites off more than it can chew. Consequently, the film’s attempts to string too many topics into one keep it from having a distinctive voice. Instead, what is left is a muddled thesis that contradicts itself.
Failing to directly address issues on immigration law, Yellow Rose misses the mark on eloquently condemning ICE’s inhumane treatment of immigrants. As the credits roll, one would be reminded of Rose’s lyrics, “I won’t go quietly into the night, and I’ll sing all day.” Not because of its wise lyricism, but how it lies in stark contrast with what Yellow Rose ended up doing—starting off by posing interesting questions but ultimately wearily abandoning them.