Movie Review: The Immigrant Experience Redeemed through Country Music — “Yellow Rose”

“Feel good movies” are a balm for tough times, and “Yellow Rose” comes along in one of the darkest falls in living American memory.

It’s an immigrant story with a country music hook, and it taps into our need to see that there are decent people out there, even in the South, even in the most conservative corner of music fandom.

Rose, given a vulnerable, soulful turn by screen newcomer Eva Noblezada, is a Filipina 17 year-old living in rural Texas in the motel where her mom (Prince Punzalan) is a housekeeper.

They’ve lived in this country seven years, but Rose’s dad — an American citizen — died sometime before. And her strict Catholic mom has been keeping a secret. ICE is onto them, and Dad’s status won’t protect them.

Not knowing that lets Rose hold on to her dream. She loves country music, has a lovely voice and a cheap guitar and child’s cowgirl hat — the works. Let her classmates nickname her “Yellow Rose.” If there’s one thing country music’s taught her, it’s that pluck and determination can get you through hard times.

The college-bound kid at the music store is kind of sweet on Rose. And persistent. Elliott’s (Liam Booth) the guy who takes her to Austin for the first time, serves her that first Lone Star, and arm-twists her into singing for him.

One night at the legendary Broken Spoke listening to the twangy honky-tonk crooning of Dale Watson (playing himself) change’s Rose’s life. Just not in the ways we expect.

They get back home in time to see Mom hustled away by ICE. Rose’s tears and confusion aren’t allayed by her emergency Plan B– “Go stay with your tita (aunt).”

Aunt Gail (Lea Salonga) has married well enough to have a nice house, and a new baby. But the reason she’s estranged from her family might be her husband, who doesn’t want the drama.

The Broken Spoke becomes Rose’s refuge, thanks to owner Jolene (Libby Vallari) and the white-haired, side-burned icon leading the house band, Mr. Watson.

“Honey, I don’t know anythin’ about law, other’n RUNNING from it!”

Co-writer and director Diane Paragas goes heavy on the sentiment with this homespun tale, getting drama out of Rose’s quick temper and her talent, and the ways other folks — old and young — are eager to help out.

“Let me know if you’re needin’ a safe place. That’s what they’re callin’ it now, right?”

The story is both familiar and unpredictable, tracking two points of view — Rose’s, trying to write songs to express her hurt and longing, and her mother’s journey through immigration enforcement.

Every good thing that happens we see from a long ways off, every setback is abrupt. But the whole affair ambles easily down a well-trod path and makes for a very pleasant and emotionally satisfying experience.

The songs are sweet and authentic-feeling, and authentically tentative in that “just starting out” way.

Casting Salonga, a singing actress best known for Disney’s animated “Mulan,” and not letting her sing is a cheat. But Watson is a laid-back delight and makes Rose’s odyssey make sense musically and emotionally.

Take a tip from a classic song and make sure this “Yellow Rose” of Texas is a movie you are going to see.

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some strong language, and teen drinking

Cast: Eva Noblezada, Liam Booth, Princess Punzalan, Libby Vallari, Lea Salonga, and Dale Watson.

Credits: Directed by Diane Paragas, written by Diane Paragas, Annie J. Howell, Celena Cipriaso. A Sony Classics release.

Running time: 1:36

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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