‘Yellow Rose’ Film Review: A Young Immigrant Finds Her Voice in Routine Indie

There is no fault to "Yellow Rose" for their good intentions, but this story of a young Filipino teen who finds his voice as a country artist (while dealing with her immigration status) almost always feels like she does skim the surface of a deeper story.
Documentary filmmaker Diane Paragas makes her debut as a fictional filmmaker, and while she and cinematographer August Thurmer undoubtedly achieve truth in their locations in Texas - the flatness of Bastrop, the city lights of Austin, the bright stage of a honky-tonk - the script of Paragas , Annie Howell ("Claire in Motion") and Celena Cipriaso tell the story as broadly as possible, and the lack of specificity undermines the effect of the film.
High school girl Rose (Broadway actress Eva Noblezada) lives in a motel in Bastrop, where her widowed mother Priscilla (Princess Punzalan) works as a housekeeper. Priscilla tries lovingly and strictly to keep an eye on Rose's whereabouts as both of them have no legal records, which means ICE could come over to arrest her anytime. When Rose and her friend Elliot (Liam Booth, "Kindred Spirits") sneak into Austin to see a show, the motel is raided and Rose returns just in time to see Priscilla being dragged away in a harrowing sequence.
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Priscilla leaves money for Rose, as well as a letter instructing her to go live with her estranged aunt Gail (the legendary Lea Salonga), but Gail's Anglo husband quickly makes it clear he doesn't want Rose with him. Rose is eventually welcomed by the friendly Austin dance hall owner, Jolene (Libby Villari, "Boyhood"), who gives her a job and a place to stay.
After ICE raided this place too - Rose escapes capture only because a young officer feels sorry for her - she moves in with local singer-songwriter Dale Watson (like himself), who gives her a camper to sleep in and she encourages them to channel heartbreak into their music.
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"Yellow Rose" ticks a lot of boxes as a story for artists to find their voice in, but all of this would get a lot more resonance if, for example, we knew something about Rose that was beyond her desire for music or if there was any sense of it bigger Filipino community around them, as surely there would be in Austin. (Or at least why Rose and her mother are distant from this community.) Rose, Priscilla, and Gail are the only Filipinas in the entire film, which leaves it up to a number of white rescuers to help Rose whenever she needs help.
Despite such a signed character, Noblezada finds grace notes and moments that are specific to Rose. It must be a challenge for a stage star to portray an actress who is nervous about crowds, but she conveys the character's stage fright (and the extent to which she eventually overcomes it) in a way that feels honest.
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Salonga and Punzalan make the most of their abbreviated roles (the latter particularly convey the heartbreak of their breakup with their child), while Booth, Villari and Watson do with characters who basically ask them to be nice.
Through no fault of her own, this film pales alongside another recent film about Filipino immigrants trying to get their way in the US and coping with cruel immigration policies: Isabel Sandoval's haunting "Lingua Franca", which is now streamed on Netflix. Where Sandoval's film evokes a kind of poetry, “Yellow Rose” remains disappointingly prosaic.
Read the original story "Yellow Rose" Film Review: A young immigrant finds her voice in routine indie on TheWrap

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