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BetteBack November 9, 1979 Movie Review: A Rose Is A Rose Is A … Bette Midler

Santa Ana Orange County Register Evening
November 9, 1979
Movie Review: A Rose Is A Rose Is A … Bette Midler
By VERN PERRY
Register Staff Writer

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Bette Midler, pop music’s bosomy queen of tackiness, couldn’t have picked a better vehicle in which to make her dramatic film debut than 20th Century-Fox‘s “The Rose.”

Although the plot of the film, which is bound to be compared to the life of late rock singer Janis Joplin, is predictable, to say the least, Ms. Midler’s performance is so overwhelming that it easily overshadows the telegraphed storyline.

Ms. Midler plays Rose, known to her fans and recording moguls as THE Rose, the hottest thing in rock music. However, as Rose finds out far too late, being on top of the musical heap has its own special obligations — obligations that eat up and spit out anyone who has lost control of his or her own life.

And that is exactly what has befallen Rose. A seemingly endless series of recording sessions and concerts — greedily booked by a manager determined “to get all there is before the rock fans’ well runs dry — have turned her life into a dull blur of faceless people, booze and drugs.

Pretty heavy stuff, but nothing that hasn’t been done before. However, “The Rose” is proof that a talented director, capable cast and efficient crew can overcome the shortcomings of an already-overworked story. Also, it should be mentioned that Bill Kerby and Bo Goldman‘s screenplay, from an original story by Kerby, does have more than its share of moments even if the concept is not all that original.

And yet, it is easy to believe that if it had been anyone other than Ms. Midler — yes, even Barbra Streisand — as the focal point of “The Rose” the film would not have worked nearly as well.

One suspects there is more than a little of Ms. Midler in the Rose character. After all, being tacky and rowdy have been trademarks of the singer’s act for some time. However, watching her portrayal of the disintegration of a human being proves that Ms. Midler had to do more than just portray herself.

Her performance is at once riveting and disturbing. It is a performance that catches all the nuances of an individual whose brash and bawdy exterior hides a sensitive and frightened inner person, a person who craves for a slower and less hectic life.

Ironically, it is doubtful that Ms. Midler’s life will be less hectic after a performance that possibly could earn her an Academy Award nomination.

If Ms. Midler set out to prove in her first film that she can act as well as sing, she has succeeded beyond her wildest dreams.

Although Ms. Midler’s performance is the principal beauty of “The Rose,” there are leaves of support which shade and add dimension to her characterization.

Mark Rydell’s direction is superb. His film is as stylish as it is disturbing, and, combined with the stunning photography of Vilmos Zsigmond, sets a proper mood for a downbeat story.

In addition, the concert sequences are captured brilliantly on film and manage to generate nearly as much excitement as a real rock concert.

Part of the reason for this has to be that a plethora of cameramen — including Laszlo Kovacs and Haskell Wexler — have captured the concert action that film editor Robert L. Wolfe has so dazzlingly assembled into a final product.

The actors supporting Ms. Midler also add greatly to making “The Rose” a quality film. Alan Bates is perfect as the manager so consumed with success that he doesn’t care what really happens to Rose, except in terms of lost revenue.

Forrest, who appeared as one of the boat crewmen in “Apocalypse Now,” is outstanding as an AWOL soldier who befriends Rose.

“The Rose” is not a pleasant film. It is a motion picture that probes deeply into the meaning of success and how success consumes those not strong enough for it. It is a film that definitely is worth seeing.

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