Haunting and atmospheric, Rose Plays Julie slowly pulls us through the journey of a young woman as she seeks out her birth parents and comes to terms with being adopted. Rose, played by Ann Skelly (Kissing Candace), is a veterinary medicine student who locates her birth mother Ellen, played by Orla Brandy (American Horror Story). Ellen is a successful TV actress who never wanted to meet the daughter she gave up for adoption. As Rose explores this relationship and presses Ellen for information on her birth father she uncovers dark secrets that have been buried by time.
Writing and directing duo Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor have gone all in on the metaphors in this story. As we begin the movie we join Rose in an Ethics and Euthanasia class where the instructor lectures that the future vets will face pet owners who want otherwise healthy pets to be put down for bad behavior, and they will need to know where they stand on that. As we find out, alongside Rose, the dark deeds her father is responsible for, it is hoped that we wonder if there are some behaviors bad enough to be irredeemable.
On her adoption papers Rose learned that Ellen had intended to name her Julie. She imagines what that life might have been like. Ultimately she tries on the character of Julie, dons a disguise, and sets out to meet her father, a celebrity archaeologist named Peter. I’m sure it is no accident that Rose (as Julie) joins Peter’s team on a dig site where they are literally digging up the past as she figuratively does the same. Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones) plays Peter as charismatic but never quite likable.
The pacing of the film is deliberately slow, many times feeling awkwardly drawn out. I had a hard time understanding the motivation of Rose. We are given only a tiny glimpse into what her life was like with her adoptive parents, but nothing that would indicate why she becomes so fixated on Ellen and Peter. Of course it is not uncommon for an adopted child to want to find their birth parents, but the lengths Rose goes to and the boundaries she crosses warrant a bit more character development. Rose feels cold and emotionless, which seems at odds and it’s difficult to understand what drives her.
While the plot is interesting and sensitive topics are handled very well, this film just came up a bit short for me. I wasn’t given enough to truly invest in any of the characters and the lumbering pace weighed down the story.
Rose Plays Julie screens at Nightstream Festival on Sunday October 11th, 2020