Broadway performer Lea Salonga and Eva Noblezada star in Diane Paraga’s debut feature about an undocumented family’s struggle to stay together in the heart of Texas despite ICE intervention.
While most moviegoers won’t know either of these names, both stars made their name known on Broadway as Miss Saigon‘s main character, with both winning a Tony award for their work 26 years apart. Eva Noblezada plays Rose Garcia, who lives in a roadside motel outside Austin, where her mother Priscilla (Princess Punzalan) works as a maid since they immigrated from the Phillippines years earlier.
The thing is, they didn’t exactly immigrate, legally speaking. While her mother constantly worries about the ever-looming threat of deportation, Rose is more concerned about her schoolwork and writing original songs. To Rose, her songs are how she lets the world know who she is, even if she hasn’t actually sung them in front of anyone quite yet. However, Elliot (Liam Booth), her classmate, who just so happens to be work at her local guitar store, takes her on a date in downtown Austin under the guise of a church meeting and quickly earns her trust.
Just in the nick of time, too. After returning from a night of listening to Dale Watson, drinking way too much, and having to be saved by the owner, Jolene (Libby Villari), she arrives home in time to witness an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid, with her mom being taken into custody. Knowing what would happen if she were to stay, Rose asks Elliot to take her to her aunt’s house (Lea Salonga) in the wealthier section of Austin, where Rose can find a way forward.
Instead of directly confronting the issue of immigration, director Diane Paragas decides to focus on this family’s pursuit of their dreams amid a bleak outlook of the future. Rose is an amalgam of both American and Filipino cultures that is a bit literal, although welcome.
Noblezada’s quiet and heartfelt performance further supports Rose’s unique heritage. In the face of enormous odds, she uses her music to tell the story her words often struggle to tell. After Dale Watson tells her everything knows about country music, Rose learns to open up and make her voice known when many people would refuse to hear it.
Watson’s role here feels strangely akin to Bradley Cooper’s in A Star is Born. I don’t like to compare movies, but the role feels similar. He’s loud, he drinks a bit too much, but this helps Rose to relax and listen to her inner voice that the music comes from. On the same coin, Villari plays the bar owner who gives Rose a home for a bit, giving her the confidence to pursue her dreams.
The script, which Paragas co-wrote with Annie J. Howell humanizes a conflict many Americans would rather ignore and showcase what happens you’re always in danger. Yes, there are some lowlights for sure, with the tone shifting wildly at points away from this main concept, but Paragas directs this as a soft lullaby that sings you to sleep before turning it on its head to create some truly terrifying sequences, particularly when it relates to ICE.
Yellow Rose is the first of many emotionally charged stories of America that Paragas seems keen to direct.
If any of that interests you, be sure to check out Yellow Rose whenever it comes to video on demand or a theater near you.