Saturday, January 30, 2021

Yellow Rose


A Filipino American teenager from a small-town in Texas lives a rather sheltered existence. Her mother Priscilla (Princess Punzalan) is very strict and won’t give her the liberty other teens get to enjoy. But Rose Garcia (Eva Noblezada) has big dreams of making it in the country music scene. Armed with her guitar and sweet voice, she writes songs that reflect her struggles and current reality. When her friend Elliot (Liam Booth) invites her to Austin to watch country legend Dale Watson (Dale Watson) perform, she jumps at the opportunity, much to her mother’s hesitation. A night of music and drinking ends in a tragic note as they end their long drive back home to a scene she never thought would happen to them – that of her mother being dragged by immigration into a van en route to a detention facility for undocumented migrants. Faced with a new dilemma, she must now decide whether to go back to Manila or continue chasing her American Dream.

Immigration, always a tricky issue to discuss because your point of view will always depend on where you stand. Are you the illegal alien about to get deported for gaming the system? Are you the jus soli kid now on your way to foster care because your parents are getting the boot? Are you the relative with legal docs hesitant to help in fear of endangering your own immigration status? Are you the local ally who keeps undocumented immigrants in your backyard? Yellow Rose tries to incorporate all of these perspectives in its less than two-hour run. Along with the music, it’s an educational and ever relevant viewing experience.

Yes, the music. Is it going to be cringeworthy? Do the characters suddenly just burst into song like they did on Glee? Not really. The core of the premise is the tired formula of the small-town girl with big-city dreams. The difference is that they use immigration as the backdrop. It’s basically a third-world problem in a first-world country peppered with songs that help to better comprehend Rose’s headspace. The song numbers do not come across as contrived, as their involvement are seamlessly integrated into the music industry storyline.

When you get a good singer like Noblezada for a singing role, it will help in letting your message transcend the screen through songs. The lyrics are no doubt a reflection of the character’s lifelong dilemma of not fitting in. We do see that in the film itself, but hearing it sung lends the narrative a whole new dimension that makes it more evocative. Perhaps the big question here was whether she would be able to tone down her theater acting for it to better suit the medium. She actually does, so brava!

Lea Salonga’s Aunt Gail is totally inconsequential to the plot. The character could have been scrapped altogether and it would not even affect Rose’s journey. What’s amusing, though, is that despite her being cast perhaps for the mere novelty of seeing two Miss Saigon Kims in one frame, the character can, singlehandedly, sustain a discourse on the clash of cultures when the predominantly eastern concept of Family First is transplanted to a western setting where such values don’t hold much water. In effect, the character is a walking paradox representative of many Filipino immigrants abroad.

If anything, it is Punzalan who gets to show some of her acting chops as permitted by the screenplay, while Watson and Noblezada take care of the musical aspect. As an addition to the discourse on illegal Filipino immigrants in the west, Yellow Rose succeeds in providing a legitimate narrative coming from Filipino-Americans themselves, instead of local filmmakers who just milk the topic for what it's worth but fail to connect because they simply don’t know what the heck they are talking about.

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