Movie Review ~ Seriously Red

The Facts:

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
Rated: NR
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.

Hollywood to Broadway – Hello, Dolly!

Your old pal The MN Movie Man took some time away from dark movie theaters in May for a long overdue visit to The Big Apple and caught up with what Broadway has to offer. Theaters in NYC and London’s West End are continually being filled with stage adaptations of movie properties and out of the 10 shows I saw, half of them either began as a film or are revivals of shows that generated a movie version of their own. In this short series, I’ll go through these five musicals from the Great White Way and see how they compare to their Silver Screen counterparts.

The Original Broadway Show: Hello, Dolly!, opened on January 16, 1964
The Movie: Hello, Dolly!, (1969)
The Broadway Show: Hello, Dolly!, opened on April 20, 2017


When Hello, Dolly! first ambled into town it had built in elegance.  Produced by legendary theater impresario David Merrick, directed by famed choreographer Gower Champion, and starring Broadway favorite Carol Channing, the musical was traditional as they come and played like gangbusters winning 10 Tony Awards and remaining on the Great White Way for a record setting run.  Well known for its stunt-casting after Channing left, famous Dollys included stars like Ethel Merman, Ginger Rogers, Betty Grable, and Phyllis Diller, not to mention an ingenious staging of an all-black cast led by Pearl Bailey.  Hello, Dolly! also had a healthy life on the road with Channing touring as Dolly for years (decades, really), occasionally stopping back in NYC for limited engagements.   Strangely, the first exposure I had to the show wasn’t from a Carol Channing tour but Sally Struthers who performed the role in a local community theater production.

Four years into the Broadway run, 20th Century Fox released a film version of Hello, Dolly! and poor Carol Channing once again got the short end of the Broadway-to-Hollywood stick.  Channing was famously passed over for Marilyn Monroe when Gentlemen Prefer Blondes made the silver screen leap and this time around none other than Barbra Streisand got her part.  This might have been some sweet revenge for Streisand who lost the Tony Award for Funny Girl to Channing in Hello, Dolly! – it’s well known that Channing and Streisand used to lunch regularly when both were treading the boards but Streisand stopped talking to Channing soon after she was bested by Carol.

Actually, maybe Channing had the last laugh since the film version of Hello, Dolly! was a fairly enormous flop when it opened…almost ruining 20th Century Fox in the process.  Miraculously, it was nominated for 7 Oscars (including Best Picture!) and won three but the film hasn’t aged well over the years.  However opulent the production and costume design were, if the musical itself was by the numbers oatmeal the film is dry melba toast.  It’s worth watching for the complete disdain co-star Walter Matthau has for his leading lady…even when he’s supposed to be falling in love with her.

Endlessly produced by theaters big and small across the world, Hello Dolly! still hadn’t had a Channing-less revival on Broadway until it was announced the Bette Midler had agreed to return to NYC in her first musical in over four decades.  Naturally, the theater community erupted with delight and the show’s advance soared to a record-setting $40 million dollars.  In fact, the show is so sold out that Midler isn’t even doing any press for it.  There’s no need…no one can get a ticket without paying a huge chunk of cash or waiting in line for a limited amount of standing room seats given out each morning.

That’s how I lucked out at seeing the show on my recent trip to The Big Apple. Getting in line with my friend around 4:30 in the morning, we weren’t even the first in line but had no trouble getting a ticket when the box office opened at 10:00am.  Already having opened to glowing reviews, I knew this would be a memorable experience and it truly was.  It’s hard to express the pure joy this production elicits…it’s just something you pretty much have to see for yourself.  Midler was in fabulous form, nailing the comedy and nuance of the role and doing a darn good job singing Jerry Herman’s score along the way.  While she’s a bona fide superstar and everyone there was there to see her, she never upstaged her co-stars…all of whom are the cherry-picked best of the best.  From David Hyde Piece’s droll but sincere Horace to Kate Baldwin’s gorgeous Irene, the voices are beautiful and the ensemble is sharp and crisp.  Special mention must be made for Beanie Feldstein  (Jonah Hill’s younger sister) who makes for a hysterical Minnie Fay.

With Midler scheduled to remain in the show for a year, ticket demand may free up as newer shows populate the landscape but be prepared for this to remain a tough ticket for some time.  The production itself is designed to run after Midler leaves…it just needs a star of her caliber to bring in the audiences.  With uber-producer Scott Rudin running things, expect some stunt casting to rival original producer David Merrick’s in the A-list department.

Down From the Shelf ~ Carol Channing: Larger than Life

The Facts:

Synopsis: A documentary on Broadway legend Carol Channing.

Stars: Carol Channing and a plethora of stars from stage and screen

Director: Dori Berinstein

Rated: PG

Running Length: 87 mins

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  The phrase “national treasure” is thrown around maybe a bit too much in our present entertainment climate.  Mickey Rooney and Betty White are obvious choices to headline the list but I don’t think anyone would object to 91 year old Carol Channing holding her own right near the top.  Documenting the lives of our most reliable, memorable, and infamous stars from the Golden Age is nothing revolutionary but a new documentary about the life of Carol Channing is one of the more winning peeks behind the stage door. 

By now, Channing has to be one of the most parodied celebrities on par with Cher, Liza, and Judy Garland and it’s true that Channing’s big eyes and unique voice are fairly easy to mimic no matter how many times you’ve seen her.  Throughout the film we see the evolution of Channing from young girl who seemed to have an invisible bond to the stage to the saucer eyed and kooky star that most of us will remember her as. 

What struck me about the film was how Channing hit the ground running with a determination most up and comers would envy.  Director Berinstein lets the facts do the talking as we move through school years to the eventual long running Broadway pro she is famous for being.  That she did it all with making very few enemies is a rare feat considering the entertainment system she was working with.

Without much adversity, though, the film paints the picture that everything was sunshine and roses which most know is not the case.  Her tumultuous marriage to her third husband (who pretty much robbed her blind before kicking the bucket) is only fleetingly touched upon as is her relationship with her son.  From Channing’s own words it’s clear that the mother/son waters were rough and may still but that’s all the information we get on the subject.

Still…the film doesn’t seem to want to have anything to do with negativity but instead focuses on the woman behind Dolly Levi, Lorelei Lee, and her Oscar nominated turn in Thoroughly Modern Millie.  A cavalcade of stars is interviewed and their words/musings are a chorus of lavish love for Channing.  Speaking of love, at the heart of the movie is the relationship between Channing and her fourth husband…who also happens to have been her first boyfriend.  Though separated for years by work, marriages, and war…the story of how they found each other again stirs the heart in the best possible way. 

As far as documentaries go, this is a fairly light affair.  Its short running length belies the monumental career Channing has had.  As Channing goes through her closet and pulls out familiar costumes from her roster of work there is never a sense of regret or sadness at shows/parts/loves gone by.  No, she seems to be thankful all over again that she’s lived the life she has doing what she loves.  That we all should be so lucky (and spry) at her age, right?

Movie Review ~ Joyful Noise

G.G. Sparrow: Who cares if I've had a few little nips and tucks? God didn't make plastic surgeons so they could starve!

The Facts:
Synopsis: Two women join forces to prevent a small-town gospel choir from shutting down.

Stars: Dolly Parton, Queen Latifah, Keke Palmer, Jeremy Jordan, Kris Kristofferson

Director: Todd Graff

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 118 minutes

Random Crew Highlight:  Libra Operator – Kenny Rivenbark  (I’ve always felt those Libra’s had a string-puller…)

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  I open this review with an admission of personal bias: I love Dolly Parton.  Always have, always will.  You have to be able to put aside the plastic surgery and large, um, assets and just agree that she’s pretty darn talented to understand where I’m coming from.  It also helps explain while I was more than a little excited for her new movie…and first starring role in over a decade.  Seeing her in concert this summer, she spoke highly of the experience and it sounded like a fun and harmless outing for her and Queen Latifah.  Ultimately, that’s what Joyful Noise is…harmless.  It’s no masterpiece or of much note at all but it does have its moments.

These movies are easy to pick apart or roll your eyes at and there was no shortage of that here.  It’s remarkably cheap looking and seemingly under rehearsed with several shots containing gaffes and strange edits.  I get the feeling that the movie went through several editors and was trimmed for time…and at nearly two hours it’s still too long.  Writer/director Graff has our two leads looking good but sticks them with ham-handed words of wisdom – almost as if they were walking fortune cookies.  In the first 30 minutes, I’m not sure Parton or Latifah had any lines that weren’t from “S#%t Church Ladies Say”.  Still, the script does provide some choice moments for both…with Parton letting loose in a restaurant and Latifah unloading a fire and brimstone sermon on the mount to her daughter.

Palmer and Jordan are our young protagonists – with great voices and charm to spare.  Jordan is a Broadway star from the just closed Bonnie and Clyde and soon to open Newsies and he transitions nicely to the screen in a stock role made better by his performance.  Palmer treads a fine acting line with the occasional tendency to overact.  Kristofferson has a glorified cameo, appearing in two scenes looking and sounding like Rocky from Mask.  Supporting characters come from the Stock Character Warehouse – all are played by interesting actors that deserved some better dialogue or moments to shine.  For instance, a seemingly random love story between two choir members is funny at first…until you realize it’s only been introduced to pad the film and provide a framework for the end set-up. 

A movie with a focus on Gospel music can live or die on the songs performed and here they are hit or miss.  I did enjoy the group numbers (especially the very fun closer) but there are a few solo songs shoehorned in that may have you checking your watch.  Like Graff’s previous effort, Camp, the film can’t decide if it’s a full on musical or a movie with music.  I almost wish they had made it a musical and let go of some of the extraneous plot devices.  The large musical sequences are filmed with 70% performance and 30% audience reaction shots.  How many times can we see a different audience member going “WOW”?  The answer?  About 24.

So is this a movie to see?  I’d say it depends on what you’re looking for.  It’s clean entertainment with good performances but a weak script.  You may find yourself sinking lower and lower in your movie seat but I’ll bet there are a few times you’ll perk up.  Lower that bar and you may find some painless enjoyment here.