Tara Samuel, Troy Kotsur, Suanne Spoke, and Courtney Jones
Sharon P. Greene
I must confess that it took me watching Deborah LaVine's Wild Prairie Rose twice to really catch the film's unique vibe, a vibe that feels both contemporary and markedly retro simultaneously. Set in the real town of Beresford, South Dakota in 1952, the film centers around Rose Miller (Tara Samuel, Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye), a woman who has years earlier set aside life in her small hometown of Beresford in favor of the bigger city but returns home to care for her ailing mother, Pearl (Suanne Spoke). Despite her resistance to the charms and challenges of her small town in the early 50's, Rose finds herself becoming rather smitten with James (Troy Kotsur), who runs the repair shop and just happens to also be deaf.
Wild Prairie Rose is an extraordinarily shot film, major kudos to D.P. Ki Jin Kim, and tells a simple yet meaningful story about the changing roles of women in the 1950's along with examining the ways that we can learn to communicate with each other. The film, at times, reminded me of Big Stone Gap but with a more relaxed, natural cast and a story that feels more authentically set within Beresford.
Sharon Greene's screenplay nicely develops the deceptively quiet shift of changing roles and values that was starting to occur in the early 50's, from women's roles to the presence of disability in the community and more. It's almost hard to imagine, but this was well before the time of ADA and an integration focus and even the presence of American Sign Language was pretty much taboo in public. LaVine's casting of Troy Kotsur, a deaf actor with both stage and cinema experience, adds a strong authenticity to the film and to the relationship that develops between James and Rose. While the challenges faced are for the most part portrayed gently, it's rather refreshing to have such an imaginative director with such integrity.
Of course, such integrity may be well intended but it's pretty much meaningless without a good film. Fortunately, Wild Prairie Rose is a mostly satisfying endeavor that benefits from a fine ensemble cast and the pristine beauty of South Dakota. The film was actually shot IN Beresford and it almost seems like being surrounded by such beauty enveloped this cast into giving remarkably relaxed, natural performances.
One of the most purely romantic films playing this year's Heartland Film Festival, Wild Prairie Rose is a finalist for the festival's narrative feature top prize.
Richard's Note: Wild Prairie Rose was the recipient of the Heartland Film Festival's $5,000 Jimmy Stewart Legacy Award!
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic