In a year when it’s often been a challenge to see the light, not only did Dolly Parton help bring some joy to lockdown with a surprise appearance on the RuPaul’s Drag Race season 12 finale, she also soothed our souls with the hopeful single When Life Is Good Again, and most significantly, as has rightly been well-publicised this week, made a one million dollar donation to a Covid-19 research fund which helped lead to the Moderna vaccine. This weekend the Dolly magic continues as she brings some early holiday cheer to Netflix with Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square.
If you’re in a hurry to get into the festive spirit this musical is likely to do the trick. In fact the first few minutes of the movie feel a little like a shot in the arm of high fructose liquid candy cane as Dolly, dressed as a homeless woman asking for change, reminds us “Christmas is a time for caring, being at your best…” before the Debbie Allen (who also directs) choreographed hyper-energised ensemble launches into a town square dance number, that’s clearly on a soundstage. Camp as Christmas doesn’t quite do it justice. That initial rather frantic pace does begin to calm down though, as Fullerville’s festive spirits are immediately dampened by the the return of the Scroogey former resident Regina Fuller (Christine Baranski) who, following the death of her father, has decided that the quaint Middle American town is to be bulldozed, its residents compensated and relocated, all to make room for a giant shopping mall. It’s a move that leads to the town’s fired up residents—led by the rather dishy pastor, appropriately named Christian (Josh Segarra)—to launch a Resist campaign against the cold, heartless New York City penthouse (T**mp Tower, perhaps?) dwelling Regina, branding her “the wicked witch of the middle”. In fact there’s a whole song about it, one of the fourteen original numbers in the film written by Dolly. Among the townsfolk is hairdresser, and one of Regina’s few friends, Margeline (Jenifer Lewis) and second hand store owner, and Regina’s former high school flame, Carl (Treat Williams).
What unfolds is a hybrid A Christmas Carol / It’s A wonderful Life inspired tale, that sees Dolly play an angel, named Angel, sent to change Regina’s heart, with some assistance from a Clarence-like apprentice angel posing as Regina’s personal assistant, Felicity (Jeanine Mason). Along the way Regina meets the chocolate-milk-drinking, smart-beyond-her-years vastly underage girl tending her father’s bar, Violet (a wonderful Selah Kimbro Jones), who inadvertently helps the older woman see things from a new perspective. As you might expect, there’s wholesome humour, faith (“faith opens the door and a miracle can happen”), glittery angelic rhinestones, and a spoonful or two of yuletide Dolly wisdom. It’s a family friendly seasonal TV movie that paints in broad strokes, elevated by the central performance of a funny, soulful and fully committed Christine Baranski, with great support from the legendary Jenifer Lewis on fine form, and of course Dolly herself lighting up the screen in angelic white. The best scenes in the film being the two-handers between Parton and Baranski. So pour yourself a stiff eggnog or two, surrender to the cheesiness of it all and it might just inspire you to decorate that tree.
By James Kleinmann
Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square will launch globally on Netflix on Sunday November 22nd 2020.