Seriously Red premiering at SXSW hits it out of the ballpark for LOL comedy with musical twists galore. Luminously written by Krew Boylan, the writer-actress also portrays the quirky, erratic but talented “Red.” Gracie Otto impeccably directs for maximum hysteria. Strategically sprinkling Dolly Parton quotes to express thematic turning points, pink lettering in the opening sequence lays out Red’s conflict. “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” -Dolly Parton
“Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” -Dolly Parton
As Red pursues happiness and self-definition, we laugh at her mishaps. In effect Red’s adventures channeling Dolly Parton as a bone fide impersonator bring her through to the other side of herself. During the process we empathize because she is “hell-bent” to determine her own identity and realize self-love.
With unusual introductory camera angles that focus close-ups on Red’s face and feet, Otto clues us into her weirdness and inner conflicts. Surely, as her mother Viv (Jean Kittison) often implies, Red remains uncomfortable in her own skin. Unhappily, Red chafes under Viv’s ample and competitive criticism. As a result, she lives in the toiletless garage adjacent to their house.
An unfulfilled life
Indeed, from Viv’s viewpoint, Red’s unfulfilled life goes “seriously” nowhere. Thus, with quips that her mother “loves her garden more than me,” we understand the rationale for Red’s Dolly connection since childhood. Of necessity Red cocoons herself in Dolly Parton’s life, music, wisdom for comfort and protection.
Importantly, neither fandom nor obsession defines the extent to which Red embraces Parton. Evidenced throughout the film, Red’s love and identification run deep. At the outset Boylan gives intimations of Red’s synchronicity with Dolly at an awards party with coworkers. Cruelly, childhood “friend” Francis (Thomas Campbell), who knows and works with her, tricks Red into wearing her Dolly “get-up.” Meanwhile, work colleagues dress up in classy beige toned suits and dresses. By comparison Red looks like a Dolly clown freak. Thus, Francis’ practical joke succeeds. Snarky colleagues snicker at her faux pas.
Red embraces Dolly Parton on a profound level.
On the one hand Red’s hard-core flashy Dolly costume and paraphernalia from nails to lipstick, eye-shadow and wig scream childish obsession. On the other hand, as Red accepts the award for best office clown, her accent and humor reveal a natural Dolly impersonator. Clearly, Boylan suggests Red’s love and deep appreciation of Dolly remains on a profound level of understanding. If she can’t fit into her own skin, she easily fits into Dolly’s.
Ironically, the party turns into a trial run. When her boss fires her for sexual harassment (hysterical flashback from the party), and a host of other inappropriate behaviors, Red takes charge. She quits in an explosively dramatic and humorous exit.
Red makes a change
Away from Viv’s prying eyes and acerbic jabs, Red moves in with Francis. Thinking they will marry thrills Viv. After a series of events, Teeth (Celeste Barber) and Wilson (Bobby Cannavale) owner of the down low Copy Club agree to hire her as a talent. First off, they select Red to “be Dolly” at a venue in Hong Kong, all expenses paid. There, she performs a duet with “The Best Kenny Rogers in the World.” Kenny (an excellent Daniel Webber), and Dolly (Krew Boylan), rock the house and the gig morphs into many gigs until the inevitable happens.
Unbeknownst to Viv, Red channels Dolly Parton. With dedication she becomes a full-time, well-paid professional. As an expert Dolly impersonator (kudos to Boylan’s performance), Red draws us happily into her adventures. Increasingly, she shines her Dolly. “Being Dolly,” her relationship with the Kenny Rogers’ impersonator blossoms into love. Nevertheless, following Parton’s affirmation to become “the best part of who she can be,” Red self-examines. Continually she asks, “Who am I?”
Channeling Dolly Parton strengthens Red
Connecting with Parton’s persona strengthens her to evaluate and move toward a life she can bear. But is it the one she really wants? Eventually, even Viv finds her life acceptable enough to take her seriously. Yet, something is wrong.
Curiously, because Wilson understands the arc of her development since he was a former Neil Diamond impersonator, he counsels her. He explains something Dolly Parton herself believes. “Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life,” -Dolly Parton.
Once again, humorously, Boylan chooses select Parton quotes to introduce a key turning point along Red’s journey of self-discovery. The quote about living and making a life is one we all need to read over. It is a truism that came to the fore during the pandemic, a time which made us stop and think. Red has been so busy being Dolly, she has forgotten to take care of Red.
Seriously Red is a terrific, boisterous, heartfelt film. It is superbly acted, directed and edited. Boylan and the rest of the cast reveal themselves as gifted comedians. Indeed, their timing (check Bobby Cannavale singing alone in his office as Neil Diamond), remains spot-on. The ensemble portrays their characterizations with great good fun and wonderful authenticity.
“Dream more, learn more, care more, be more.” -Dolly Parton
To spread the joy, the film includes a catalogue of classic Dolly Parton hits. Additionally, Otto selects music from Kenny Rogers, Elvis, Neil Diamond, Kylie Minogue and David Bowie. Also, the cast includes Rose Byrne and a scene out of the impersonators’ Star War’s bar. At the Copy Club lookalikes dress up in crazy juxtaposition to their real life counterparts. The stars come out from Abba to Freddie Mercury and the Elton John “facsimile” may be Elton John. And then there’s Barbra!
Don’t miss this exuberant comedy Seriously Red that remains more profound than it appears and turns us inward to consider what shapes our passions. Indeed, evolving our passions on a journey to the other side makes our lives worth living. And like Dolly Parton says, “Dream more, learn more, care more, be more.”