Producers: Cecilia Mejia, Rey Cuerdo, Orian Williams and Jeremiah Abraham Director: Diane Paragas Screenplay: Diane Paragas and Annie J. Howell Cast: Eva Noblezada, Lea Salonga, Princess Punzalan, Dale Watson, Liam Booth and Libby Villari Distributor: Sony Pictures and Stage 6 Films
Though one of its major plot points involves ICE agents tracking down undocumented immigrants, niceness is the salient quality of Diane Paragas’ tale about a Filipina teen who embraces her dream to become a country-western singer when forced to go off on her own after her mother’s arrest. “Yellow Rose”—a title that captures both the locale and the bittersweet nature of the piece, being a reference not only to the Texas setting but the insensitive nickname her classmates have given to Rose Garcia (Eva Noblezada)—shares some similarities with “Wild Rose,” Tom Harper’s 2018 film about a Glaswegian ex-con who dreams of becoming a Nashville star. But though both movies opt for uplifting endings, Harper’s offers a twist while Paragas’ is more conventional.
Rose (Eva Noblezada) lives in a small town with her mother Priscilla (Princess Punzalan), who’s been in the country illegally for years and works on the cleaning crew of a run-down motel. The girl is a devotee of country-western music, playing her collection of LPs and singing along with them. Elliot (Liam Booth), a clean-cut classmate who clerks at a guitar store, invites her to drive with him to a concert at an Austin bar run by earth-mother Jolene (Libby Villari), and there she meets singer-songwriter Dale Watson (playing himself), an aging crooner who’s taking a break from the grind of the road.
When Elliot and Rose return home, however, they witness Priscilla being taken into custody by ICE. Priscilla tells Rose to go and stay with her estranged sister Aunt Gail (Lea Salonga), but though the woman welcomes the girl into her home, that doesn’t last long, and soon Rose finds her way back to Austin. There Watson, who’s impressed by her music, offers her a place at the rustic compound where he’s working on his own songs. She takes him up on it while working at Jolene’s, but ICE soon shows up there as well, and it’s only by sheer luck that she evades capture.
From this point things start looking up for her, though there are setbacks. Watson encourages her to follow her star and overcome her shyness, but also makes it clear that he can’t become a surrogate father. Elliot shows up complaining that Rose hasn’t answered his calls but is happy to overlook that. And finally, as you know she would, she takes to the stage with Watson urging her on, while her mother looks on proudly from her cell. (Her fellow prisoners and staff members join her as she smiles at the computer screen.) That pretty much settles Rose’s decision about whether to stay in America or accompany her mother back to the Philippines.
No one could claim that “Yellow Rose” breaks new ground in narrative terms, but the script by Paragas and Annie J. Howell obviously adds an unusual ethnic wrinkle, and the plot thread involving deportation provides a timely element to the mix.
The cast is another point in its favor. Noblezada has a strong presence and sings well, and Watson brings authenticity to his grizzled old mentor role. Booth makers an amiable romantic interest, and Punzalan exudes grit and concern. Technically the film is rather ragged, but the cinematography (August Thurmer) and production design (George Morrow) are adequate, and though the editing by Liron Reiter and Taylor Levy could hardly be described as sharp, it keeps the action moving and sometimes (as in the scene of the ICE raid at Jolene’s) generates real tension. Christopher H. Knight’s score is fine, and the songs, while they don’t sound like chart-busters, have the ring of authenticity.
This an agreeable take on a fairly familiar plotline, pleasant but hardly memorable.