BootLeg Betty

BetteBack November 8, 1979: Joplin Portrayal by Midler Unexpected Surprise

Blytheville Courier News
November 8, 1979


NEW YORK – By the time you realize what’s wrong with “The Rose,” it will have you hooked anyhow. There are so many finely drawn episodes, so much brittle, raunchy humor, and such an unexpectedly alluring performance from Bette Midler in the title role that the movie maintains its momentum even after it’s gone off the track. Its strengths may
only be those of a good show business soap opera, and its structure is disjointed beyond repair. But “The Rose” has an
earnest, affecting character at its core. Even at its most preposterous, it never feels like a fraud.

“The Rose,” which opens in New York Wednesday, seems to have been conceived as both a vehicle for Miss Midler and a
way to tell a story like Janis Joplin’s. So The Rose — who shares The Divine Miss M‘s odd habit of incorporating an article into her nickname — emerges as a creature of many contradictions. Although the story is supposedly set in 1969, Miss Midler is so thoroughly a product of the 70s that it becomes hard for her to handle certain aspects of the tale, notably those having to do with Rose’s hippie abandon and her essential fragility. Miss Midler herself seems about as fragile as a bull elephant, no matter how stridently the screenplay insists that she eventually self destruct.

This screenplay, which takes the form of a crazy flashback, introduces Rose as a hard-living but weary performer who is agitating for a year’s rest as the story begins. However, her manager, played with a fine ruthlessness by Alan Bates, is not a man who believes in allowing his meal ticket to take vacations. So Rose embarks on a series of spiteful, sometimes funny escapades to serve as both distress signals and her only way of letting off steam.

Frederic Forrest, who would be the surprise hit of the movie if Miss Midler didn’t herself have dibs on that position, plays a chauffeur whom Rose kidnaps on one particularly trying evening. And he has a sweet, stirring exchange with her when she finally hauls him back to her hotel at dawn. He pauses on the front steps to describe an
adventure he once had on a Western river, but only one detail interests her. “Were you really,” she asks with genuine
astonishment, “alone for six days?”

The early part of the story, which is at its most involving in the lengthy sequence that launches this romance, also
presents a withering portrait of the music world — much nastier than the image offered by Barbra Streisand’s “A Star Is Born,” a movie “The Rose ” resembles in its general blowsiness and enormous scale.

One of the most memorable scenes has Rose barging, with an excess of flamboyance, into the dressing room of a country
star, superbly played by Harry Dean Stanton. He winds up snubbing her with a cruelty that corresponds, perversely yet
perfectly, to her own good timey style of aggression.

But Rose, though temporarily daunted, is still someone who’ll crash any party. In fact, her feistiness emerges as one of her most lovable attributes. During this section of the film, she is also seen marching into a homosexual nightclub, a men’s bathhouse and a truck-stop restaurant, where a nervous waitress tells her “We don’t serve hippies.” “Well, that’s okay,” smirks Rose, who loves rising to such occasions, “cause we don’t eat ’em, neither.”

These incidents don’t have much to do with one another, but they have a certain emotional coherence that is sorely missed once the screenplay begins burying Rose alive. By the time her demurely dressed lesbian lover appears on the scene, it has become painfully clear that if the kitchen sink could walk, somebody would have written it an entrance line, too. Rose’s former heroin habit, and her high school misadventure with an entire football team, are suddenly brought into the act, paving the way for a finale that will amaze amateur pharmacologists everywhere. Rose combines heroin and pills into a miraculous potion that, somehow, allows her to belt out a song at the top of her lungs before dying an arty death only seconds later.

Mark Rydell‘s direction, which has been unobtrusively effective until this point, suddenly turns the movie into
something very like a wrestling match.

—Reviewed by Janet Maslin, New York Times

Share A little Divinity

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.