Catching Up: Rambling Rose (1991)


Rambling Rose (1991)

A year after David Lynch’s Wild at Heart paired up mother-daughter actresses Diane Ladd and Laura Dern, they reunite for a very different style in Southern moral drama Rambling Rose.  Director Martha Coolidge (Valley Girl, Real Genius) delivers a syrupy glimpse at old fashioned morals and ineffective patriarchal criticism in an adaptation of Calder WIllingham’s (The Graduate, Kubrick’s Paths of Glory) own novel, wrapping his career with a passé moral tale.


A man returning home recollects the time a young woman came to live with his family as a member of the family who mostly just cleans and acts as nanny. Rose, the woman his father states caused a “damnedable commotion”. The man proves to be Buddy, and we quickly shift into 13-year-old Buddy played by a young Lukas Haas. As he watches Rose (Laura Dern) approach their house, an unsteady gait, baffled by her new surroundings, thus begins the high drama of a promiscuous lady entering the haughty South. Dern with heavy accent and baby doll curls arrives as the emotional, simple object of desire. She quickly falls for Robert Duvall’s character with the despicable title Daddy who acts to stand as a self-aggrandizing moral head of his household. Always apt to lecture on others’ failings, he’s a counterbalance to the sometimes blithering Rose. Landing a touch of sensibility in this groan worthy movie is Diane Ladd as the mother. A woman from Southern decadence, Columbia educated and always bragging about her grand family, the mother is doting and less grating than Daddy, but the role is inherently humorous: prim lady with her comically large hearing aid makes for an unintentionally comical persona.


Rambling Rose is full of 90s melodrama that has not aged well, but there are more portions gag worthy.  Eventually rose finds her descent into hysterics traipses her into the family’s heart just as she’s becoming the town scandal.  A woman ravaged with desire, she falls too easily for the wrong men. It’s all painfully sex negative. And if you thought Call Me By Your Name was pushing boundaries, this movie has a secretive, uninterrupted montage of escalating fondling between 22 year old Rose and 13 year old Buddy, her oldest ward.  It’s the sexually charged Cinema Paradiso no one wanted. At the end of the film, father and son are able to agree upon their shared love for the woman, part Lolita, part Mrs Robinson.


The climax allows Ladd to stand against a lecherous doctor and the abiding father-dictator in her Oscar nomination solidifying moment.  The 90 minutes of staying quiet is broken at forced hysterectomy, a line that was a lot of groan-inducing moments building to its disappointing come-to-not-eugenics conclusion.  Time has not served this film well, and being one of two Oscar nominations for Laura Dern (her later for the much superior Wild), it proves that the accolades rarely favor the most remarkable roles of our favorite performers.  Completing my last of this year’s best actress and best supporting actress categories, expect more awards jabber coming soon.


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