Synopsis: Red lost her job as a real estate agent, but there’s something no one can take away from her: her dream of becoming the world’s greatest Dolly Parton impersonator! When Red’s life as an imitator starts to feel false, she discovers true happiness comes when you’re the best version of yourself.
Stars: Krew Boylan, Daniel Webber, Rose Byrne, Thomas Campbell, Bobby Cannavale, Celeste Barber
Director: Gracie Otto
Running Length: 98 minutes
TMMM Score: (4.5/10)
Review: For a while, it wasn’t considered cool to like Dolly Parton because when you heard her name, the first thing wasn’t her incredibly successful music career…it was two other things. However, a tide has changed over the past decade, allowing the country-music artist, entrepreneur, philanthropist, etc., to carve out a path in the mainstream. As a lifelong Dolly fan, it’s nice to see the longtime devotees get their day in the sun and to see a new generation weaned on trivial music with no heart come to know her talent. I’ll never turn down an opportunity to see her live (as close as possible, thank you) or visit Dollywood (I cried) or watch one of her cheesy movies (Christmas on the Square, not great but how can you ding Dolly?) made with love.
That goes for Dolly-adjacent movies like Seriously Red, a film I’d been seriously looking forward to after missing my viewing window back at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival. It was one of my most anticipated films going into the festival, and being unable to get to it in the short allotment we were offered bummed me to no end. With it finally arriving at a limited theatrical run and available for streaming, I was excited to see this Australian-made film which was marketed as a feel-good look at one woman’s quest to better her life by adding a dose of Dolly.
Finding herself nearly comatose working at a real estate financing job, Red (Krew Boylan) has a stroke of good luck from an awkward situation. She misunderstands the dress code at her company party and arrives dressed to the hilt as Dolly Parton instead of simply showing up in her finest attire. She catches the eye of the entertainment hired for the evening, an Elvis impersonator (a genderless Rose Byrne, Spy, Boylan’s real-life bestie), and the two make sweet music together later that night. The positive affirmation she receives from Elvis and his manager (and getting fired the next day for her drunken behavior) inspires Red to pursue life as a Dolly impersonator, using her ambition to go straight to the top.
Perhaps my expectations were too high, or I assumed Seriously Red would follow the trend of other Australian features that came to our shores two decades ago. These were the movies like Muriel’s Wedding and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – films that practically bounced off the screen with color, wise focus, and a vibrant spirit. Seriously Red has the same skewed view these earlier ocean-crossing pics had but is missing several key ingredients to keep it afloat and engaging. Despite a high-wire leading performance by its writer/star, it’s an often sad and melancholy tale that falls flat.
I often wondered if the entire film was a big joke the audience wasn’t quite in on. Red spends a significant amount of time in a club for impersonators, and the performances here were either spot-on or far off the mark. Red’s eventual teaming with a Kenny Rogers impersonator (Daniel Webber, Escape from Pretoria) has a sweet heart. Still, Webber’s phony facial hair and lousy wig leave the viewer wondering when he would rip all that fuzz off. No one ever seems to be taking anything as seriously as the film wants us to believe, so when we get to a moment of raw emotion where Red is laid quite literally bare, it’s not the striking beat of clarity it likely should be.
Punctuated by interludes featuring some of the most overused Dolly quotes, director Gracie Otto’s film has a rough-and-tumble feel. That almost fits in nicely with Dolly’s love of imperfection, but even she knows how to put some razzle dazzle on something cheap. There’s little flash to Seriously Red, and while Boylan has a charming quality to her approach to the material, the only time the movie feels like it achieves its full potential is when Bobby Cannavale’s (Annie) Neil Diamond impersonator goes into a short dream sequence. In this glitter glam section, we glimpse the places Seriously Red could have flown if it had only dared to commit more.