A perfectly scaled tale of small-town murder, alienation and floral arrangement, “Rose’s” reps extremely confident writing and helming from Frank Patterson, who here steps up from genre cheapies to make a whimsical, affecting, ideally cast bid for the mainstream — or at least something slightly to the left of the mainstream. It also offers a memorable showcase for both soulful newcomer Leslie France and screen vet Wayne DeHart, as an odd couple caught up in bad Southern doings. If right distrib is found, pic could yield sweet-smelling, if small, profits before being planted in sensible cable beds.
The titular Rose (France) is a transplanted New Jerseyite in a deep-dish Georgia town. The skinny, high-strung woman has plenty of problems: It’s almost Valentine’s Day and her flower shop (likewise called Rose’s) is about to be repossessed by the bank. But more than that, she’s married to a nasty, car-selling bubbawhose latenight shenanigans — sometimes right in the petunias! — are common knowledge to everyone in town. No wonder she finally killed him and stashed the body in her back-room cooler.
Thanks to her Yankee-Italian background, and an exceedingly meek outlook on life, Rose has never lost her outsider status, so it’s a twisted kind of godsend when blues-singing ex-con Willyum (Wayne DeHart) wanders into her shop, fresh from a long imprisonment for murder. He needs help getting back together with his still-angry wife (Tonea Stewart), and Rose needs assistance in, oh, dealing with the body, the police and any other legal ramifications on the way, so she offers him a job and a place to crash.
Naturally, the brand-new parolee — skittish at the best of times in his gadabout life — is not thrilled with this role. Her co-workers and acquaintances, all of them white and hidebound by tradition, don’t exactly warm to the idea of a gnarly black murderer on the premises. About the only support Rose gets, oddly enough, is from her cranky, accident-prone mother-in-law, Ms. P., who’s played by Sylvia Miles in a powerful supporting perf.
The main story is pretty compelling on its own, but Patterson keeps upping the ante, first with flashbacks in which the storytellers themselves participate , and then by introducing new characters and devising delicious set pieces for them. Along with a shaky, Richard Montalban–like mortician (funny Bill Bolender) and some eccentric Christian belles who come to Rose’s supposed rescue (Laura Hicks is the standout here, as nosy Myra Sue), there are hilarious highlights with full-figured Glenn Shadix as a new sheriff who defies certain Southern stereotypes.
Overall, helmer has enough affection for his milieu to bring out its Gothic absurdity without quite veering into cartoon land. His shifts into pure drama, mostly involving Willyum’s attempts to connect with his young son (Jam Holder), are as smoothly handled as the comic bits.
Pic also boasts uplifting, gospel-heavy score and sunny-bright lensing to contrast with the darker elements . Pic makes a real star of the super-expressive DeHart; here he walks with a limp, explained by his character’s pre-prison shooting, but, sadly, the actor had his diseased leg amputated after project wrapped. He’s still working, though.