Published Nov 23, 2020Christmas might be one of few occasions when saccharine-sweet redemption tales are standard fare — and Dolly Parton has delivered exactly as much sweetness as you'd expect from her new holiday flick, Christmas on the Square.
It's an archetypical Grinch story — a simple enough format — embellished with song, over-the-top sentimentality, soap-opera plot points and hardcore holiday cheese. It's hard to separate the wholesome-but-rambling grandma aesthetic from its overt corniness, but, aided by Parton's expert songcraft (and borrowing from numerous Christmastime classics), the film still manages to help even the smallest of hearts grow by three sizes.
Regina (Christine Baranski), a shoulder pad-clad, big-city real estate mogul, returns to her hometown to serve every resident of Fullerville, KS, an eviction notice just days before Christmas. The bitter-hearted Regina is hated by all the townspeople, who value their small-town Christian lifestyle — until a singing angel (Parton) manifests as a possible brain tumour hallucination, spreading the good word of Christmas, and Regina begins to see the light.
Much like the Backwoods Barbie herself, Parton's new Netflix endeavour is coated in more icy rhinestones (literally and figuratively) than the country legend's signature Nudie suits. From story to set design and its heavy-handed Christian overtones, Christmas on the Square embraces Parton's maximalist ethos in every facet.
In keeping with Parton's "Dollitics," the film is also a vessel for a more subtle political statement against, primarily, cutthroat property markets and vicious landlords. In the same breath, it's also somehow a rallying cry for universal healthcare, rural economic self-determination, road safety, and of all things, women's reproductive autonomy. In its short 90-minute runtime, Christmas on the Square even manages to touch on child labour, homelessness and, er, the immaculate conception of a pastor's baby.
If that seems like a lot, it's because it is. Like listening to Dolly Parton speak on almost any topic, her festive film is a dizzying quandary of old lady morality. The uninitiated may feel queasy from the film's many twists and its unhinged pace. Conversely, fans of the country grandma will lap this up; Parton's breakneck energy is woven deftly throughout, matching her empirical catalogue and ceaseless postulation on the matter of ethics. It's both big-screen community theatre and Hallmark on speed.
While there is something for every Christmas movie fan here, the film and all its innumerable dimensions would undeniably be better realized as a series, set at a much more realistic pace. If nothing else, viewers get to watch a 74-year-old Parton float around on a low-budget CGI cloud dressed in angel wings. And, if we're being honest, isn't that the true embodiment of the Christmas spirit? (Magnolia Hill Productions)