Rose, a successful rock star at the height of her career begs her manager for some time off. When she is forced to continue touring, she finds comfort in drugs, booze and the arms of a handsome man. But juggling her career, fans and addictions take a toll on Rose as she begins a downward spiral that threatens to take away everything she worked for.
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“Where am I? I never know where the fuck I am! All these fucking clouds are just alike!”
A loosely-based bio-pic inspired by the life of singer Janis Joplin, Mark Rydell’s The Rose introduces an ass-kicking, foul-mouthed, ballsy rock star who, despite her hard shell, tragically collapses into herself. The film follows Rose (Bette Midler) already at the top of her game, trying to deal with fame and the intense schedule of touring.
It’s the late 60s, early 70s and there’s a war in Vietnam. Parts of America despise “hippies.” The women’s movement continues to gain energy. And when Rose takes the stage, she gives voice to these turbulent emotions; screaming, swearing and laughing. "Fuck this shit! I've had enough of you, you asshole!” she shrieks into her microphone. “Pack your bags. I'm putting on my little waitress cap and my fancy high-heeled shoes, I'm gonna go find me a real man. A good man, a true man." The women in the audience go wild as she launches into “When a Man Loves a Woman.” Rose is pure, unadulterated energy. She riles up the crowd, giving them what they want; singing her wrecked heart out. When she finally steps off stage, she buries her head in her arms and wails, “I’m so tired.” Watching Rose live her life is indeed tiring. The drugs, booze, constant touring, lack of sleep and fighting with her manager (Alan Bates) is exhausting to witness.
The film cannot be called a musical, in the traditional sense. None of the characters sing except Rose, musical numbers are organic; set up as actual stage performances and there are no choreographed dance numbers. The one thing the film does differently however is show songs in their entirety. No cutting or fading away, or snippets of performances. Rose sings and sings. It’s at these moments that the film stops and takes it time, allowing Bette Midler to showcase her incredible talent. Feeling more like live concert footage than a fictional performance, the musical numbers are incredible, giving life to a story that otherwise could be very stale.
Everyone knows the story of the rock star that partied too hard and lost it all. This film does not deviate from this structure and tends to get slightly repetitive if not for one saving element: Bette Midler. Midler’s singing is exceptional; gritty, bluesy and emotional. Nominated for an Oscar, her performance is quite remarkable as she displays the joy of being in her element and the self-disgust of being trashy Mary Rose Foster. When she meets Huston Dyer (Frederic Forrest) it seems like she may finally accept herself and find love, but this relationship also just adds to the stress of balancing everything else in her life. She loses herself in him and then loses him. In one of the very last scenes, she stumbles into a phone booth, spreads her drugs around her and makes two heartbreaking phone calls to her manager and her parents. She then staggers on the stage belting out “Stay with Me” and collapses from a fatal drug overdose. Midler’s “The Rose” plays over the credits, tragic and poignant, becoming an instant classic.
The Rose is a film that sometimes drags along but is mostly entertaining. Bette Midler’s tour de force performance gives the film it’s backbone; taking the audience along for the rock n’ roll lifestyle. The musical/concert performances are fun and energetic and definitely the highlights of the film. The Rose is a fascinating and tragic look into the emotional life of a talented star.