Dolly Parton made a Christmas special and it’s corny and wonderful.
Welcome to Fullerville, the town that Norman Rockwell painted when he had just a little bit of Ecstasy. Everything is bright and shiny and musical and happy, until it’s revealed that the town is being sold by local rich woman Regina Fuller (Christine Baranski) and her assistant Felicity (Jeanine Mason). The local pastor, Christian (Josh Segarra), and his wife, Jenna (Mary Lane Haskell), lead the citizens of the town, including Regina’s lost love Carl (Treat Williams), her former best friend Margeline (Jenifer Lewis), and bartender Mack (Matthew Johnson) in a protest against Regina. However, it turns out that there might be someone a little bit more magicall, and a lot more fabulous, might be trying to help turn Regina around (DOLLY F*CKING PARTON). Also, there’s an underaged bartender named Violet (Selah Kimbro Jones) who might be the best character in any movie ever.
I feel like I have to start this review by saying that I have nothing but respect and love for Dolly Parton and that will probably color this review a bit. I put her in the category of Mister Rogers, one of the rare people who seems to be both so talented and so nice that it borders on the unbelievable. Dolly Parton has written a song a week on average since she was 14 years old, including 25 number ones, and has funded charities ranging from homelessness and literacy to building a theme park for the Appalachians and helping develop a vaccine for COVID-19. She would be a billionaire if she didn’t keep giving money away. I have difficulty ever judging anything she is involved with objectively, which may be why I thought this film was amazing.
I don’t mean that this film is going to win any Oscars. It’s not “good” by most traditional measures, nor was it supposed to be. It’s an old-school Christmas special, like Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas or Babes in Toyland starring Keanu Reeves, and it is just as corny as most of those were, in the best possible way. Everyone in Fullerville is, for the most part, a good person and they want to keep their simpler and more wholesome way of life. They’re so idyllic that they make a villain of Regina, even though she’s not stealing the town, but rather paying everyone large amounts of money for their property. Whenever she points out that fact, no one ever says she isn’t being fair about the amount, only that they simply don’t want to break up their community. Fortunately, the movie wisely shifts to being more about Regina learning to care about people again than about her being greedy. It does have a message to teach about being caring and helpful to people, to the point that Dolly Parton practically demands that the viewer do better. Coming from her, it works.
The structure of the film is largely just coming up with subplots that can justify another song. While none of the tunes in this film will go down as Dolly Parton’s best, they’re still her work and above the average original songs from this kind of special. They do showcase her love of wordplay quite a bit and some of them are actually fairly catchy. Treat Williams showcases that he still has a great voice after 41 years (since he was in Hair). Most of the supporting cast really give their all to the songs, which helps immensely.
But I can’t end without talking about Violet. This entire film would be worth watching just to see the scene with Violet. She’s a prepubescent bartender, something that you would not expect to see in Fullerville, but since she’s truly innocent, it’s never really concerning to the viewer. Everything Violet says is gold. She’s one of those kid characters that is truly wise beyond her years by virtue of not being distracted by the inanities of maturity. She counsels Christine Baranski and does so more effectively than anyone else in the film, while also providing a cute and kind of sad song. It’s a truly bright spot in the film.
Overall, this movie was pretty much exactly what I wanted it to be. It’s a sincere Christmas parable from a person who really does seem to represent many of humanity’s best traits. Plus, it’s just fun.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.