Documentary filmmaker Diane Paragas makes her narrative feature debut with Yellow Rose, a drama starring Eva Noblezada (in her feature film debut), Tony Award winner Lea Salonga, Princess Punzalan, musician Dale Watson, Libby Villari, Gustavo Gomez and Liam Booth. Paragas’ passion project combines her love for Austin, Texas, with an immigration tale where Paragas is more interested in the humanity that lies within this topical issue, rather than the politics of it. Regardless, Yellow Rose is an emotional tale of love – love for family and the love of following your dreams.

Noblezada plays Rose Garcia, a 17-year-old undocumented Filipina in a small Texas town. Growing up on and falling in love with country music, Rose dreams of becoming a country musician and even writes and performs her own songs. Rose doesn’t play in public, though – she’s terrified of being in front of a crowd. So, her music serves as catharsis from the menial life she lives alongside her mom, Priscilla (Punzalan).

One day, Priscilla is arrested by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, resulting in the only life Rose knows being turned upside down. Rose flees and gains help from her auntie Gail (Salonga), country bar owner Jolene (Villari), famous alt-country musician Dale Watson and friend Elliot (Booth) while she decides between pursuing her dreams or returning to the Philippines with her mom.

Although immigration tales aren’t new to cinema, tackling the topic from an Asian perspective is rare. Most of cinema's immigrant tales involve Mexicans, but statistically 13% of those undocumented are Asian immigrants. Paragas knows this but more importantly, she’s Filpina-American herself. It's important to her the Filipino immigrant struggle be showcased.

Although Paragas wants to bring Asian immigrant stories to the forefront, Yellow Rose is a universal tale. Rose’s journey is a coming-of-age tale besieged with roadblocks. She’s 17 and alone – she has yet to finish high school and is homeless. Making matters more difficult is the fact she’s undocumented, too. If Rose is discovered, she will face the same fate as her mother. Life, of course, comes with its fair share of challenges and Paragas is astute to lean into that. It’s a winning move since this tale is as real as the fly on Vice President Mike Pence’s head.

Paragas provides a steady eye (and fine cinematography) for audiences to live within Rose’s plight and she does so without condemning either side of the immigration issue (Paragas: "I didn’t want to demonize any one group. It’s not a film about hate, but acceptance. I didn’t want to make a grand political statement, but to show that we are all in it together with the same hopes and dreams and struggles.”). There are some brief glimpses into the treatment of captured undocumenteds, but Yellow Rose focuses almost exclusively on Rose and her handling of the enormous pressure.

With Paragas providing exceptional work behind the camera, she relies on Noblezadas to do the heavy lifting in front of it. Noblezadas is up to task as she seamlessly transitions from Broadway, where she’s an accomplished lead in Hadestown and a Miss Saigon revival, to the big screen. Noblezada provides the humility and fear a shy teen would normally possess, while at the same time she inserts within Rose the ability to grow while adapting to her undesirable situation. Just like her name, Rose blossoms as she discovers her voice, both on stage and off, while doing what must be done to accomplish her dreams.

In short, Yellow Rose is a fantastic feature that loosely follows the A Star is Born blueprint. That comparison shortchanges Paragas’ exceptional effort and the themes she examines, but the director’s love for country music, the city of Austin and Austin’s music scene lines up nicely with Bradley Cooper’s country music showcase in his 2018 feature. Everything else in Paragas’ emotional drama is unique, all while speaking to Filipino-Americans, Asian-Americans and all immigrants who desire a better life in America.

Originally premiering at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival in May 2019, Yellow Rose is currently playing in theaters and drive-ins at over 900 locations nationwide.

4 stars out of 5


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