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Rambling Rose (film)

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Rambling Rose
Official poster
Directed byMartha Coolidge
Screenplay byCalder Willingham
Based onRambling Rose
by Calder Willingham
Produced byRenny Harlin
Mario Kassar
Edgar J. Scherick
CinematographyJohnny E. Jensen
Edited bySteven Cohen
Music byElmer Bernstein
Distributed bySeven Arts
(through New Line Cinema)
Release date
  • September 20, 1991 (1991-09-20)
Running time
112 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$7.5 million[1]
Box office$6.3 million[1]

Rambling Rose is a 1991 American drama film set in Georgia during the Great Depression, starring Laura Dern and Robert Duvall in leading roles and Lukas Haas, John Heard, and Diane Ladd in supporting roles. Rambling Rose was directed by Martha Coolidge and written by Calder Willingham (adapted from his own 1972 novel of the same name).[2][3]

Laura Dern and Diane Ladd, daughter and mother in real life, were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively, making them the first mother-daughter duo to be nominated for Academy Awards for the same film or in the same year.[4][5][6] The film won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Film, and Martha Coolidge won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Director.[7]



In 1971, a grown Buddy returns to his former family home and reflects on his youth during The Great Depression, when Rose came to live with his family in order to escape her miserable life in Birmingham, where she was being forced into prostitution. The Hillyers are an eccentric family who take Rose in as a domestic servant. Rose quickly begins to admire Mrs. Hillyer, who is working on her master's thesis and who she learns was orphaned at a young age, just as Rose had been. Rose also develops a crush on the paternal and warm Mr. Hillyer that the three Hillyer children and Mr. Hillyer become aware of while Mrs. Hillyer remains oblivious. Because she is hard of hearing (she carries an early kind of hearing aid), she misses some of the byplay.

Eventually, Rose kisses Mr. Hillyer, who at first responds to her advances and then becomes angered at her and rebuffs her. Buddy witnesses Rose and Mr. Hillyer kissing, and later, when Rose gets into his bed to talk to him at night, he repeatedly tries and eventually is allowed to fondle her breast just as his father had done while he was kissing Rose. Eventually, to satisfy his curiosity, Rose allows 13-year-old Buddy to perform manual sex on her. Afterwards, she is apologetic and upset, and she begs him not to tell anyone.

The Hillyers begin to disagree about Rose's presence in their lives. Mr. Hillyer worries that Rose is too promiscuous when she goes to town and will cause them problems, but Mrs. Hillyer sees her promiscuity as her way of trying to obtain love and attention.

Strange men begin lurking around the house and even fighting with one another. Mr. Hillyer attributes this to Rose, but she repeatedly denies knowing them before eventually admitting it. However, Rose is eventually arrested when some of her men begin brawling in a bar over her, and she bites the finger of a policeman. Though the police and Mrs. Hillyer are willing to forgive Rose, Mr. Hillyer insists on firing her, but before he can, Rose is hospitalized with a bad case of pneumonia. The attending doctor tells them that Rose has too strong a basic constitution to have had the desperately poor country background she has asserted. During her convalescence she develops a passion for the doctor, who spends lengthy periods of time in her room during his visits to her. After she recovers, Rose seems to be on her best behaviour but Mr. Hillyer eventually catches her with another man in her room. He fires her but obtains a position on a dairy farm in Tennessee for her. When he informs Rose, she begins crying, says that she is pregnant and that she does not want her baby to be born on a farm.

Mr. Hillyer believes she is lying about being pregnant and the Hillyers take her to a doctor where they learn that while she is showing signs of being pregnant she actually has an ovarian cyst and is sterile because of untreated gonorrhea contracted when she was 15. The doctor recommends a radical full hysterectomy, involving the removal of the womb and both ovaries, potentially resulting in a less feminine appearance and reduced sexual drive, as it would reduce Rose's promiscuous behaviour. While Mr. Hillyer initially agrees to the operation, Mrs. Hillyer argues against it and eventually persuades the two men. Rose is treated for her cyst and returns home where she eventually marries the policeman whose finger she bit. Returning to the 1971 reflection, Buddy reveals that Rose married three more times and was eventually happy with and faithful to her last husband with whom she lived for 25 years. He goes to talk to his father who tells him that Rose died the previous week. When Buddy begins crying Mr. Hillyer tells him that Rose is a person who will never really die as she will live on forever in their hearts.





In reference to the bed scene between Laura Dern and Lukas Haas, director Martha Coolidge said Lukas was sort of the perfect age to play the part of Buddy. "It was important not to have a child, because the scene would have been unpleasant. It was also important not to have a man, because the scene would have meant something else." Capitalizing on the actor's curiosity about sex, Coolidge said, "Lukas knows that acting is living. He has made 25 movies. His great gift in Rambling Rose is that he shared something important, his first experience with sex, with the audience. Yet the whole scene is an illusion, except when he touches Laura's breasts."[2]



The film received overwhelmingly positive reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, it has a 100% approval rating, based on 20 reviews.[8] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone praised the storytelling and performances, summarizing the film as "beauty."[9] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3 out of 4 stars, saying "The movie is all character and situation, and contains some of the best performances of the year, especially in the ensemble acting of the four main characters."[10] On his TV program with Gene Siskel, both critics gave it a thumbs up.[11] Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a B, extolling the performances, particularly Dern.[12] He wrote that, "No young actress today can play emotionally hungry postadolescents with such purity and yearning."[12]

Awards and nominations

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[13] Best Actress Laura Dern Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Diane Ladd Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards[14] Best Director Martha Coolidge Nominated
Best Actress Laura Dern Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Diane Ladd Nominated
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards Best Actress Laura Dern Nominated
Golden Globe Awards[15] Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Diane Ladd Nominated
Independent Spirit Awards[16] Best Feature Won
Best Director Martha Coolidge Won
Best Male Lead Robert Duvall Nominated
Best Supporting Female Diane Ladd Won
Best Cinematography Johnny E. Jensen Nominated
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards[17] Best Supporting Actor Robert Duvall Runner-up
Montreal World Film Festival Best Actress Laura Dern Won[a]
National Board of Review Awards[18] Top Ten Films 8th Place
National Society of Film Critics Awards[19] Best Screenplay Calder Willingham 3rd Place
USC Scripter Awards[20] Nominated
Yoga Awards Worst Foreign Casting Diane Ladd (also for Wild at Heart) Won
Young Artist Awards[21] Best Young Actor Starring in a Motion Picture Lukas Haas Nominated
Best Young Actress Co-Starring in a Motion Picture Lisa Jakub Nominated


  1. ^ Tied with Lee Hye-sook for Silver Stallion.


  1. ^ a b "Rambling Rose (1991) - Box Office Mojo". www.boxofficemojo.com.
  2. ^ a b Russell, Candice (October 6, 1991). "Director's touch made film blossom bringing rambling rose to the screen was an uphill battle for Martha Coolidge". Sun-Sentinel. Archived from the original on 13 June 2021. Retrieved 7 February 2022.
  3. ^ "'Rambling Rose' Censorship Rumble". Los Angeles Times. October 26, 1991.
  4. ^ "1992 | Oscars.org | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences". oscars.org. 9 October 2014.
  5. ^ Mercedes Ruehl Wins Supporting Actress: 1992 Oscars
  6. ^ Jodie Foster Wins Best Actress | 64th Oscars (1992)
  7. ^ "History". Film Independent.
  8. ^ "Rambling Rose". Rotten Tomatoes.
  9. ^ Travers, Peter (September 20, 1991). "Rambling Rose". Rolling Stone.
  10. ^ Ebert, Roger (September 20, 1991). "Rambling Rose". RogerEbert.com.
  11. ^ "Season 6 Episode 1 - Dogfight/Late for Dinner/Rambling Rose/Blood & Concrete (aired September 14, 1991)". siskelebert.org.
  12. ^ a b Gleiberman, Owen (October 11, 1991). "Rambling Rose". EW.com.
  13. ^ "The 64th Academy Awards (1992) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on July 6, 2011. Retrieved October 22, 2011.
  14. ^ "1988-2013 Award Winner Archives". Chicago Film Critics Association. January 2013. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  15. ^ "Rambling Rose – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  16. ^ "36 Years of Nominees and Winners" (PDF). Independent Spirit Awards. Retrieved August 13, 2021.
  17. ^ "The Annual 17th Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards". Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  18. ^ "1991 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  19. ^ "Past Awards". National Society of Film Critics. 19 December 2009. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  20. ^ "Past Scripter Awards". USC Scripter Award. Retrieved November 8, 2021.
  21. ^ "13th Annual Youth In Film Awards". YoungArtistAwards.org. Archived from the original on 2011-04-03. Retrieved 2011-03-31.