This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
I had been all excited to watch Dolly Parton’s Christmas musical on Netflix and write some hyperbolic and, let’s face it, obvious headline about how “Dolly Parton Saved Christmas!” only to realize that 1) I had apparently already written that headline before, and 2) I was selling the Backwoods Barbie far short. It turns out our Smoky Mountain queen isn’t just saving Christmas, she’s saving the whole danged human race.
Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square hits Netflix Sunday, less than a week after it was revealed the music legend helped to fund the research that went toward the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19. I don’t know how it wasn’t on our 2020 Bingo card that it would be Ms. Parton who swoops in to rescue us from a pandemic. Of course it would be her. The record speaks for itself:
And if that weren’t enough, now she’s gifting us a Christmas movie, too. Having seen it, I can say it’s about 94.5 percent effective in delivering a pleasant time.
Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square may rank among the most earnest things I have ever seen. It announces itself as such immediately, with Dolly Parton crooning on a studio set as a glowing, sparkling angel posing as a hobo—what if God was one of us, truly—before townspeople start pirouetting down the sidewalk and rhyming “Christmas on the square” with “thermal underwear” in the big opening number.
It’s either get on board or get run over by the train with the unapologetic sincerity and schmaltz. Could something as cheesy as this thrive at any other time? Regardless, it’s a welcome treat to shed the snakeskin of cynicism and despair and just give in to the wholesome world of Dolly Parton at Christmas.
In yet another saintly act, Parton has given us a musical in which regal queen Christine Baranski is the lead. She plays Regina Fuller, a Scrooge in heels who returns to her hometown just before Christmas to tell everyone that she’s selling the land in order to build a giant mall, and they all gotta go. Only now do I realize that I hadn’t truly lived before seeing Christine Baranski speak-sing an eviction notice in time to a dramatic musical interlude.
This Christmas Square has everything: Gays voguing in a hair salon, a pastor and his wife toasting eggnog to fertility treatments, tap dancing in the bank line, a homeless Dolly Parton.
The cast is a Who’s Who of Gay Twitter faves. There’s Baranski, of course, but also Mother of Black Hollywood Jenifer Lewis, The Other Two’s Hot Idiot (Josh Segarra), the best So You Think You Can Dance contestant ever (Jeanine Mason), and sexy dad icon Treat Williams. It is directed by none other than Miss Debbie Allen.
There are A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life vibes all over the place. Regina used to live in the town and her father was everyone’s favorite. After he died, her heart iced over—hence the holiday evictions—and it’s Angel Dolly’s mission to thaw it.
In these scenes, Parton floats over Regina on a billowy cloud, which only raises the issue of how we figure out a way to provide exclusive cumulonimbus transport for Dolly Parton going forward. It’s what she deserves.
There’s a heartrending plot in which Regina meets a young girl wise beyond her years, whose story about losing her mother forces Regina to consider the impact of her actions—especially when tragedy later befalls her, too. And just when you think you have things figured out, there’s a shockingly intense secret pregnancy and adoption storyline. Dolly Parton always keeping us on our toes!
There are some beautiful Christian ballads—Parton, of course, gets the best ones—and some real corny clunkers. Sometimes it’s hard to shake the feeling that you’re watching the best community theater production to ever hit Netflix. It’s an aesthetic that’s best to embrace, as approaching this movie with even an ounce of jadedness would render it unwatchable.
There is a lot of talk about the power of prayer and faith. There are SEVERAL dance production numbers that are set inside of a church. It’s perhaps the one film that fits in the Venn diagram sweet spot of the Christian agenda and the gay agenda. Once again, the power of Dolly.
No one would argue that what’s going on here is brilliant, or even the best of the myriad new Christmas movies piling up on networks and streaming service like an insurmountable snowdrift.
But there’s something refreshing about how heartfelt it is. If you thought there was going to be a Christmas musical about a Dolly Parton angel changing Christine Baranski’s life that also has a dad singing prayers that his little girl doesn’t die after a car accident and that wouldn’t shatter my brittle-ass gingerbread cookie of a heart until I’m yelping back tears, well… I just don’t know what to tell you.