Review by Joseph Fayed
Rose Styron, now 95 years old, has lived through it all. More accurately, she has been a living witness to so much history, as she gleefully recounts her life in the documentary In the Company of Rose. Rose Styron has been everywhere and met everyone, but those intriguing moments Rose reflects on are few too little.
Director James Lapine, mostly known for his contributions to the theatre, meets with Rose Styron over a series of several summers on Martha's Vineyard. Across the span of that time, the documentary pieces together Rose's life, from her childhood to her career with Amnesty International. But a significant portion of the feature has Rose explaining the decades she spent married to her husband, author William Styron. Rose has an energy that draws people towards her, and the relationships she has formed prove that.
Covering 95 years in an 85-minute runtime is nearly impossible. James Lapine tries his best to cover the most crucial parts of Rose's life, without any noticeable gaps. Rose recounts her life in much detail when asked various questions by James Lapine, and without the interference of interviews with those who may have influenced her. James Lapine lets Rose take center stage in narrating the events of her life. So many documentaries feel trapped through archive footage, and when the subject is a living person, that could be especially troublesome. The intimate approach Lapine takes here provides more context than your average documentary, consisting of voiceovers and family albums.
The two highlights of the documentary are Rose's work with Amnesty International and William's battle with depression. They deserved lengthier standalone segments. Rose's observations from her career battling injustices across the world to the mental decline of her husband are rich with insight from someone who was mostly overshadowed during her life. Two blocks of the documentary discuss her husband's novels, and the most interesting parts were Rose thoroughly explaining why and how they were written. Rose in conversation gives the most important context authors could provide when discussing their works. In contrast, so little of Rose's own published materials are given attention.
Rose Styron is a storyteller. She is by trade, whether it's poetry or in addressing human rights. Ironically titled In the Company of Rose, Rose single-handedly makes this documentary better than any family member or friend if they were interviewed could have done. The intimate approach requires nothing to be done to dramatize Rose's life story. James Lapine was fortunate enough to cross paths with his documentary subject in Martha's Vineyard, and if I visit someday, I sure hope I get to meet Rose too.
In the Company of Rose is now in theaters and on VOD.