Driven by Noblezada's standout central performance, writer-director Diane Paragas' memorable drama is an exploration of identity and immigration, as well as a lovely tribute to the power of music. Despite her Broadway experience, Noblezada downplays her star appeal through Rose's somewhat shy demeanor ... until she builds up her confidence and starts belting out country ballads in front of an audience. And it's a real coup for Paragas that she managed to secure Broadway legend Salonga to play Rose's Tita Gail. While she's mostly underused (although it's understandable, given the plot developments), Salonga does manage to sing Dahil Sa Iyo, a classic Tagalog love song. It's not nearly enough of her voice, but with Noblezada, Salonga, and Watson in the cast, there's more than one amazing voice on the soundtrack, which is fabulous.
As Rose goes from place to place looking for sanctuary, she grows as a musician but has to close in and protect herself. With her mother in custody, it's difficult for Rose to feel truly safe, even as others offer her a job, a bed, and even the chance to grow as a musician. Booth's Elliot is an ideal friend and potential love interest; he's obviously interested in Rose, but he realizes she has much bigger issues than a romantic relationship on her mind. He's exactly the kind of sweet, generous, and accepting 18-year-old there should be more of in popular culture. And Watson's gravitas is in full force as a larger-than-life version of himself. For a brief moment, audiences might fear what an older man might expect from an attractive younger woman, but -- thank goodness -- he's strictly a godfather figure. There are many sad moments in the film, but ultimately it's about perseverance and finding your way.