Squarely dropped right into the middle of the immigration debate comes Diane Paragas’ Yellow Rose and what it means to be an American hiding in plain sight. The titular Rose (Eva Noblezada) is a 17-year-old undocumented Filipina teen. After school, she sits in her room at the motel where her mother works and plays the guitar, sings, and writes. Not too shabby, she’s a good performer on all fronts.
The always worried Priscilla (Princess Punzalan), Rose’s mother, keeps her sheltered for her own protection. That is until a boy, Elliot (Liam Booth), asks Rose out on a “date” to see famed country singer Dale Watson (as himself) at a bar in Austin. Telling her mother, he’s taking her to church, Rose’s road trip to Austin is a go. Mesmerized by the music and bar atmosphere, Rose’s destiny with country music is all but solidified.
Upon her return home, ICE agents have raided the motel, and Rose’s mother is arrested and scheduled for deportation. Priscilla tells Rose to stay with her close, but estranged, friend Gail (Lea Salonga) in Austin. Knowing she’s not wanted there by Gail’s husband, Rose leaves and moves into the back room of the bar from the night before, thanks to the kindness of its owner Jolene (Libby Villari). While there, Jolene and Dale mentor the young budding country star, yet her illegal status in the U.S. still hangs over her head.
“After school, she sits in her room at the motel where her mother works and plays the guitar, sings, and writes.“
Yellow Rose is a story of hope, opportunity, and a comment on the current immigration crisis all wrapped up in the story of Rose, played wonderfully by Eva Noblezada. Stepping back from the film a bit, the film is solidly Asian (specifically a Filipino story) and very much American—you don’t get much more American than with country music.
There are a few themes that intermingle together to form the film’s overall narrative. First, Rose herself. It’s not lost on me that in Asian, the United States is the land of opportunity and being here—legally, illegally, whatever—still means you have a chance at a much better life than living overseas. Rose represents that young woman who, while not born here, grew up with all that America has to offer, and is, for the most part, an American.
Then there’s one of the greatest faults of Americans, in general. Their ability to be compassionate and the roles of Jolene and Dale see an individual endowed with the heart of a country singer—a trait that supersedes gender, race, and legal proof of citizenship.
“…there are no phonies here. Dale Watson brings his decades of experience to the film’s music, songs, and performances.“
In Priscilla’s subplot, Director Paragas does her research and goes through great detail to show how ICE and Homeland Security processes and deports the undocumented. They are clearly, the bad guys in the movie. But can Rose and friends come through for Priscilla at the last minute?
I mentioned Eva Noblezada’s performance before, but it needs to be brought up again. First, the writing and development of her character is spot on. Rose is not portrayed as a cowering victim, constantly on the run. She has her own complexities, primarily pride. While she does some running from ICE agents, it’s her friends and family who do most of the chasing with a chorus of “Rose, come back…” She’s a young woman who refuses to be a burden to anyone, to beg for help, and possibly has serious trust issues too.
If Noblezada is the star, country music is her co-star. The I-Need-To-Express-My-Feelings-And-Country-Is-The-Only-Way-I-Can-Do-It bit has been done countless times in cinema, yet it manages to work wonderfully here. Maybe it feels fresh from this unlikely source. Also, there are no phonies here. Dale Watson brings his decades of experience to the film’s music, songs, and performances. It also helps that Nobelzada can actually sing and beautifully too.
Yellow Rose (2019) Directed by Diane Paragas. Written by Annie J. Howell, Diane Paragas. Starring Eva Noblezada, Princess Punzalan, Liam Booth, Libby Villari, Dale Watson, Lea Salonga. Yellow Rose was the opening night feature at the 2019 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
7.5 out of 10 stars