Mary Rose Foster (Bette Midler) is a celebrated rock singer, but all her fame and adulation cannot help her cope with the loneliness she feels, something she tries to diminish with an unhealthy reliance on alcohol. She succeeds in wowing her fans at her concerts, belting out blues rock almost nightly, but her manager Rudge Campbell (Alan Bates) is forever pushing her to do more so when she announces to the press she will take a year off he treats it as a joke in front of them. Rose sets her sights on her homecoming show...
This began life as a biopic of Janis Joplin, but once director Mark Rydell had secured the services of Midler, they set about altering it to make it more loosely based on Janis's career and its untimely demise, although whenever the movie is mentioned even now, so the Joplin name crops up as well. It could be the reason for that is the manner in which even though the filmmakers were trying to fashion an original story, they plummeted into every cliché trap that such movies fall into, so no matter how they designed the material to suit Midler, it still seemed like any other doomed female singer's tale.
For her fans, The Rose was a chance for Midler to strut her stuff on a larger stage than the nightclubs she had made her name with, and therefore prove her talent was great enough to carry a whole film of this size. Everything here was big: the acting, the singing, the emotions, but most of all the misery as one damn thing after another happens to the lead character, as if the writers were practically digging her grave in the process of scripting. This means while you could enjoy this if you liked a good weepie, for everyone else it was a resistable wallow in gloom, like watching Rose scribble out her virtual suicide note for well over two hours.
What's so frustrating is that nobody around her can actually do anything to prevent her downward spiral, and if anything some of them actively encourage it. Rudge was played by Bates as if written for an American, thus he would drop some very un-British slang and turns of phrase into his dialogue which sounded downright odd from his mouth, but even that did not obscure the character's exploitation of his charge. He even tells her he relishes having dragged such a junkie up from the gutter to such fame - just before informing her he's firing her after one all-night drinking session too many.
Telling that to someone obviously in a fragile mental state is an excellent idea, right? Well, no, wrong, but this kind of scene predominates in the film, in between the concert footage where Midler performs middling tunes with her customary gusto, with the production's mind evidently on the lucrative soundtrack album. Rose does get a man in her life when she hooks up with her chauffeur, Huston (Frederic Forrest), and for a while it seems they might be good for each other until someone decided no, that's far too enjoyable for this movie, and placed obstacles to their lasting happiness in their way for the rest of the running time: a hitherto unmentioned lesbian lover, an old schoolfriend supplying her with heroin, that sort of thing. Even when Rose gets to meet one of her idols (Harry Dean Stanton), he cuts her down to size by calling her trash to her face. With these odds stacked against her, the self-pity is laid on pretty thick, leaving The Rose unlikely to win over those unconverted to the undeniable Midler talent. Stick with Divine Madness instead. Music by Paul A. Rothchild.