There are many moments during Rosie when you will feel as though you’ve been given a warm, cradling hug. It’s a film that is, in technical terms, a little rough around the edges, but so are we; so are the characters (the adult ones, at least) that the film is about. In its form, Rosie harkens back to the familiar dramedies of the early ‘00s or even the ‘90s, ones wherein a cherubic child teaches a down-on-their-luck adult a thing or two about the beauty of life. But what differentiates Rosie from what you might have seen before is its bevy of characters with histories and stories so seldom represented on screen. Written and directed by Métis powerhouse Gail Maurice, Rosie shines and bursts with an indomitable joie de vivre; it is a film that reminds us of the beauty of life, that there is hope.
The film takes place in ‘80s Montreal, opening on sweet Rosie (Keris Hope Hill), a visibly Indigenous little girl whose mother has just passed away. She is at the cusp of being taken into the Canadian foster care system, but a rule maintaining that a child must be taken to family first, before being placed in a foster family’s home, sends Rosie to the door of her only living relative, her mother’s sister Frédèrique (Mélanie Bray), better known as Fred. Thirty-something Fred is an artist who makes very little money; she is about to be evicted from her apartment for three-months lapsed rent, and categorically does not want children. The social worker who hands Rosie to Fred literally runs away against Fred’s protestations, leaving the bemused child with her. The rest of the film follows Fred trying to make sense of her situation, figuring out how she can make enough money not only to ensure she doesn’t remain unhoused, but also how she might care for a child. She is helped along the way by her two best friends, Flo (Constant Bernard) and Mo (Alex Trahan), who each have their own struggles that Rosie, unintentionally, helps them to navigate.
Fred and Rosie’s mother were foster siblings. Rosie’s mother was a victim of the Sixties Scoop, the systematic, mass, calculated governmental removal of Indigenous children from their families that took place from the ‘50s and well into the ‘80s — this racist practice, with its direct links to the workings and assimilative goals of the Residential School System, took children and newborns from their families and put them into state care, eventually placing them into the homes of white families. Fred is very much aware of the fact that this is what happened to Rosie’s mother, and many times throughout the film she screams in pleading frustration at the children’s services agent that the system ought to bear the consequences of its actions. Through Fred, we see a nuanced and subtle, though still powerful, critique of a racist government that manufactures societal fringe and then refuses to support it. Rosie is about this fringe.
A low-income artist, Fred lives on the fringes of society. So too do Mo and Flo: they are apparently sex workers, and they buck traditional understandings of gender. Flo is dealing with the death of their mother in face of a bigoted father who doesn’t want Flo to show up at the funeral in their usual drag outfit. And Mo is aspiring to perform at a nightclub even as they contend with nerves and stage fright. And then there is Rosie, an Indigenous child who doesn’t know she is Indigenous, but who manages to find joy in every aspect of her life. Maurice presents us with these characters who so seldom get depicted in the dramedies hinted at before that forged the type of film that Rosie falls under — Uptown Girls, Big Daddy — and does so in such a delightful manner by fleshing each of them out, respecting their stories, and thereby reinvigorating this particular genre altogether.
The thing is, even as Rosie reminds Fred, Flo, and Mo of the beauty of life, teaching each of them how to become their best selves within their oft overlooked spot on the societal fringe, the child herself isn’t depicted as some perfect and salutary, ultimately flat angelic force. Maurice understands that Rosie is a child first and foremost, and not only a child, but an Indigenous child in a system that actively worked to erase her Indigeneity and that seems ill-equipped to take care of her. Rosie is herself full of anxieties and fears (she is afraid of being abandoned and loves to look at the stars after Fred tells her that her mother is now in the sky) even as she is full of love, curiosity, and passion. This is what I mean when I say Maurice has a deft understanding of her characters and respects them as she depicts each of their stories in this familiar and beloved form. Rosie isn’t annoyingly precocious like Dakota Fanning’s Ray in Uptown Girls, she is simply a child who wants a family, Maurice shows.
Rosie is a delight, the kind of film to elicit warm belly laughs, tears, and a feeling as if everything will be alright. Maurice has stunningly, carefully, and successfully created a fulsome portrait of a group of people learning that they already have what it takes to be a whole family; each actor delivers a warm and charming performance, underscored with unhealed hurt but containing within them a will that is polished by the steadfastness of Rosie, her sweet desire to see the good in others, that childish wonder that is nigh impossible to snuff.
Rosie is a wonderfully fun film that also works in deft ways to remind us of a nation’s culpability in destroying families and lives. But through Rosie Maurice shows us hope, that when everything is lost, hope is still salvageable. All this is contained within Hill’s Rosie, an endlessly delightful girl who reminds us that there is still a kind of magic to be sought, that it’s okay to need guidance and support.