Mark Rydell’s 1979 rock ”˜n’ roll drama, The Rose, made Bette Midler a star. While she had already done theatre, some television, and live musical acts, as well as uncredited or tiny bits in some films, Midler broke through to the mainstream with this picture and earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination. There were many who felt that Midler should have won the statue (Sally Field snagged the award for Norma Rae). The point is arguable, for Midler indeed displayed top-notch acting chops as well as singing prowess. She also proved she could rock out.
The project was originally intended to be a biopic about Janis Joplin, entitled Pearl. When Joplin’s family refused permission, the producers morphed the script to feature a Joplin-like character known as “The Rose”–but it wasn’t Joplin–and turned the story into fiction. That said, the movie is very truthful about rock ”˜n’ roll divas, touring, and the heavy toll that this business takes on an artist.
Once the project was about a fictional character and not Joplin, director Rydell signed on, and he was able to convince Midler to star. This was inspired casting. Midler struts her stuff and oozes sexuality in the concert sequences in front of audiences, explodes with violence in the scenes of conflict with her manager or boyfriend, and she delivers vulnerability and insecurity in the quiet moments. Addicted to alcohol and other drugs, the Rose is on a fast path to self-destruction, and Midler brings the tragedy to life with aplomb.
Alan Bates plays her British manager with the appropriate adoration of and frustration with his talented, but flawed, client. Frederic Forrest turns in an Oscar-nominated performance for Best Supporting Actor as the somewhat clueless guy The Rose picks up after a disastrous meeting with a songwriter (Harry Dean Stanton) who refuses to give her any more of his tunes. Forrest is terrific as he takes a tremendous amount of shit from the stormy rock star, but then turns around and gives it back to her with the same intensity.
The music is dynamite–the end title song “The Rose” became a standard for not only Midler, but other torch singers. Rydell’s direction is assured as he stages both huge, arena-sized rock concerts with thousands of extras, along with small, intimate scenes between a couple of actors.