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Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Retro Review: The Rose (1979)

The Rose
Cast: Bette Midler, Alan Bates, Frederic Forrest, Harry Dean Stanton 
Genre: Drama
U.S Box Office Gross: over $29 million 

Plot: The tragic life of a self-destructive female rock star who struggles to deal with the constant pressures of her career and the demands of her ruthless business manager

'Bette Midler's Debut Blooms Like A Rose'

I am a fan of pop music and a fan of classic movies, particularly from the 1980s and 1990s, as well as a few 1970s efforts, yet music biopic flicks aren't really my bag. Besides the terrible TV movie treatment they have been getting the last few years on VH1, BET, Lifetime, I'm not completely sure why, but for 1993's What's Love Got To Do With It? starring Angela Bassett and Lawrence Fishbourne as Tina and Ike Turner, I've never really been in sheer awe of them. And yet there is one music biopic drama that surprised me in more ways than one: for starters, The Rose is based on Janis Joplin, who I have heard of, but not of her songs; secondly, it has the great Bette Midler in the lead role and it was well-received and much lauded back in 1979. Though it has taken me to this day to see it in full, I'd say better late than never. 

Directed by Mark Rydell and penned by the guy who did One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, this music-based movie is as stated earlier based on the life of singer, Janis Joplin, who goes by the name of Mary Rose Foster who also has her share of problems, as well as emphatic highs and rock-bottom lows, as she struggles to deal with the fame and in juggling her personal life, whilst on the verge of serious nervous breakdown. She is also a recovering drug addict and alcoholic who is overworked to the bone & feels underappreciated by Rudge.  

When Mary's manager, the increasingly irate and abusive Rudge turns down her requests to have some time off of her busy schedule, Rose runs off with a Southern limo driver & drifter, who tries to get her on the road to recovery and begins a romance with him. It starts off as being passionate, only for it to become shortlived and alas, it fizzles out in the end. As time goes on, she comes to the realisation the life as a rock star is all not all that it is cracked up to be and nor does it make her any happier than she was and is. It's a story that was replicated in What's Love Got To Do With It?: the only difference is it ends on a happier note with that movie, which it cannot be said with this offering. 

Bette Midler lost out to Sally Field in Norma Rae for the Academy Award for Best Actress in The Rose. A decision that many felt was unjust. Hailed as not only the debut screen performance of hers, The Rose is the most important and definable film of Midler's long-standing career, which remains just as strong today as it was almost 50 years ago. She was lauded and touted as the most talented singer/actress to make the crossover from music to film, so much so that comparisons with Barbara Streisand were made. Midler was just beyond extraordinary as the troubled singer, Rose and The Rose is mostly notable for both her musical and acting turns, whilst exuding a powerful, raw and highly impassionate & committed performance that touches on the character's topsy-turvy emotional and erratic state, which Midler nails to a tee, as well as the cinematography where it is shot like and feels every inch of a pop/rock concert. Usually, most actors and actresses turn in their best performances during the latter to middle end of their careers when they have hit their peak, but here, with Midler, it happened so early on for her in the late 1970s. & lest not forget, this was her first onscreen starring movie role. It was also great to see Midler belting out the songs live with no miming over the records or backing tracks. You feel the energy, razzmatazz and the buzz, you really feel as if you are watching an actual concert with Midler rocking it out. & whilst the soundtrack is the main selling point of this movie, the strength and believability of the acting are just as impressive. Additionally, Frederic Forrest as Rose's boyfriend was terrific and the other film that I last saw him in was 1993's Falling Down starring Michael Douglas as some ex-war wacko. 

I thought the narrative in The Rose, as terribly bleak and as downbeat as it can get, held up all the way and it was very compelling. Even if the music and Midler's vocal performance were great, which they were, I don't think that alone would make this movie as successful and well-appreciated as it is and was, without it. The story, which some people had an issue with, and Midler's performance, was what truly sold it and I bought into them and the performance, this is sincerely the best I've seen of Bette Midler's. And this coming from someone who loved her manic and funny turn in the comedy, Ruthless People.

Final Verdict: 

Initially, a Janis Joplin biopic, director Mark Rydell and writer did a good thing to create a character and have it loosely based on Joplin herself.

Bette Midler delivered a staggering character-driven, powerhouse dramatic & musical performance, as she demonstrated in The Rose, and it was the type of high- calibre performance that not only broke her in the mainstream - it was also one that she never obtained in dramatic roles in other big-name projects that she truly deserved. Which is a shame.

She was first-class and at her finest and this movie didn't disappoint me; it was worth it and mainly thanks to the performances by Midler especially I thoroughly thought I was on to a winner.

& in The Rose, this film was certainly it. If you are an avid fan of Bette Midler, this needs to be in your collection.


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