Rose Plays Julie continually subverts audience expectations. Rose (Ann Skelly) is a young woman in search of her birth parents. She begins by stalking her mother (Orla Brady). Things take a darker turn when she sets her sights on her father (Aidan Gillen). The movie (playing at the Nightstream Film Festival) starts off as a basic thriller. Rose has a strong yearning to connect with her mother. Many of the normal adoption drama motifs are here. Rose calls her mother but cannot speak to her and schemes her way into finding out about her life.
Rose Plays Julie takes a dark tonal shift when Rose begins to search for her father. At this point, things almost turn into a revenge story. Despite the logical reasoning, it is a drastic change. A radical change can negatively impact a movie. It can be confusing and awkward. Rose Plays Julie makes it work since the atmosphere never changes. Early on, the audience learns Rose wants to meet her mother. Aside from the curiosity of an adopted child wanting to meet their biological parents, even Rose does not seem to know why it is so important to her.
When Rose Plays Julie goes down a different path, it is a smooth transition. There is now meaning behind her search. The story is a quiet and intimate one. (It moves at a patient but never seems slow thanks to the fluid script.) This never changes even as Rose’s motivation does. It is excellent writing from Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy.
Skelly does a great job as Rose. Her emotions are internalized leading to a person who is simultaneously awkward and resolute. She knows what she wants but sometimes seems unsure how to say things. At the same time, she can be very forward. Rose is an interesting character dealing with emotions even she is having trouble handling. Skelly also uses expressions that add to the performance. Sometimes, she appears to be taking everything in. It is as if she is listening and analyzing every word. Much is communicated in the quieter moments of Rose Plays Julie.
The sound design increases the emotion of the film. Much like the dialogue of Rose Plays Julie, the music is sparse. Strings and heavy drums will come in at the most opportune times. Sometimes, the music slowly rolls in. The already emotionally resonant story becomes even more powerful. Music being used to convey emotion is especially effective here.
Rose Plays Julie is a gripping movie. What starts as a standard adoption thriller becomes a more chaotic revenge story. Along the way, the film never loses its sense of identity or confuses the audience. The film effortlessly switches gears and at the same time handles topics not normally seen in the genre.
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