Every moment is Dolly Parton’s moment, but it’s never been more true than this week. She’s not only funding the development of a new COVID-19 vaccine, she’s dropping a Christmas movie musical ― which she co-produced, composed, and performs in ― on Netflix to keep us all entertained through a lonely, cold holiday season. Dolly, thank you.
But is “Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square” any good? Three HuffPost reporters are here to tell you all about it.
The Bottom Line
Premiering Sunday, “Christmas on the Square” tests whether the holiday-TV-movie industrial complex can handle maximal musical-theater cheesiness. The results are mixed, to say the least.
Claire Fallon: Dolly Parton is no newcomer to holiday flicks, and last year released a Hallmark film called “Christmas at Dollywood,” so I thought I knew what to expect from her latest, “Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square.” Matt, Erin, I was wrong. From the opening number, a jaunty ensemble performance set in the titular square, I quickly realized that what I was in for was a little bit Hallmark, sure, but also a little bit “Schitt’s Creek”-meets-Broadway.
The basic plot: Cold-hearted Regina Fuller (Christine Baranski) has recently inherited this charming town from her father and is serving eviction notices at Christmas so that she can sell it to a mall conglomerate. The town’s pastor spearheads a resistance campaign, while Dolly ― an angel who walks among the townspeople disguised as a glamorously made-up panhandler ― tries to change Regina’s heart. What were your initial impressions?
Matthew Jacobs: I realized “Christmas on the Square” would defy all assumptions at the first sight of Dolly’s mildly smeared eyeliner, tattered gray outerwear and stringy bangs. Singing a ballad about the haves and have-nots, she appears to be green-screened into the aforementioned square, possibly because Dolly Parton does not go anywhere without flattering lighting equipment — even when she is supposed to look homeless. It’s the first of many, many, many things in this movie that make little sense. The next is Regina, a Trumpian spin on Ebenezer Scrooge, distributing eviction notices to children.
Erin Evans: Before hitting play, I knew I was gonna be in for a ride. Dolly Parton, Christine Baranski and Jenifer Lewis? Then, I found out Debbie Allen, one of my faves, was directing. So I was IN for all the hijinks.
Now there’s a lot going on in Fullerville, so I had to sit for a second to reorient myself while watching this because it very much gives you over-the-top TV-movie-musical vibes. And the storyline — a mean lady coming to a town to evict everybody in the dead of winter in Fullerville because the Cheetah Mall conglomerate wanted to build a mall — just was … a lot to digest. A mall, really? In this economy? Evictions, really? I couldn’t help but think about the measly $1,200 Americans received in the last eight months. You gotta push that all away to try to enjoy a bit of the quirkiness of this.
CF: Quirky is right. I have never really appreciated the movie musical, and “Christmas on the Square” exemplifies the primary reason: The camera brings the viewer right onstage, where we end up staring closely at broad emoting and ensemble dance numbers from a much closer vantage point than the genre was designed for. It’s … a lot?
MJ: It seems like none of the performers (aside from Baranski and Lewis, who are seasoned enough to survive the script’s silliest impulses) realized they were making a movie and not a stage production. Everyone is operating at an 11 when a 6 would have sufficed.
I think what really got me is how much story gets crammed into 98 minutes, mostly explained via painfully expository song lyrics. Allen and Parton clearly want this town to be a quaint “Gilmore GIrls”-esque snow globe, but instead, it just feels like a bunch of playacting, which makes subplots about infertility, unrequited high school sweethearts, sassy child bartenders, a cancer scare, teen pregnancy and something about a very important lantern all the more awkward.
EE: RIGHT. It is definitely not the kind of musical that works as background noise while you’re, say, washing the dishes. You really have to pay attention because … there are so many twists and turns.