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Seriously Red

Paying tribute to the one and only Dolly Parton, this Australian comedy follows a plucky impersonator swapping the nine-to-five for playing her idol.
By Sarah Ward
November 24, 2022
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By Sarah Ward
November 24, 2022
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When working nine to five isn't panning out for Raylene 'Red 'Delaney (Krew Boylan, A Place to Call Home), she does what all folks should: takes Dolly Parton's advice. Pouring yourself a cup of ambition is never simple, but when you're a Parton-obsessed Australian eager to make all things Dolly your living, it's a dream that no one should be allowed to shatter. That's the delightful idea behind Seriously Red, which pushes Parton worship to the next level — and idolising celebrities in general — while tracking Red's quest to make it, cascading blonde wigs atop her natural flame-hued tresses and all, as a Dolly impersonator. That's a wonderfully flamboyant concept, too, as brought to the screen with a surreal 'Copy World' filled with other faux superstars; enlisting Rose Byrne (Physical) as an Elvis mimic is particularly inspired.

Seriously Red doesn't just get its namesake adhering to Parton's wisdom, whether sung or spoken over the icon's 55-year career. It also splashes the country music queen's adages like "find out who you are and do it on purpose" across its frames as well. They help give the film structure and assist in setting the tone, as this rhinestone-studded movie comedically but earnestly explores two universal struggles. Everyone wants to be true to themselves, and to work out what that means. We all yearn to spend our days chasing our heart's real desires, too. As penned by Boylan in her debut script, and directed by fellow feature first-timer Gracie Otto (after documentaries The Last Impresario and Under the Volcano, plus episodes of The Other Guy, Bump, Heartbreak High and more), Seriously Red spots a big question lurking in these missions for Red, however — because what does it mean when being yourself and scoring your dream gig means being someone else?

When the film begins, Red isn't loving or even liking her lot in life, and definitely doesn't want to keep the status quo on purpose. Tension lingers in her real-estate valuer job and at home, where she's turned her mum Viv's (Jean Kittson, Fat Pizza: Back in Business) garage into a flat — and the daily tumble out of bed and stumble to the kitchen, then to work, is a grind. Even worse, she's tricked into showing up to the company party in her Dolly regalia to be the butt of the office's jokes, although it does get her an in with an impersonator talent agent. Teeth (Celeste Barber, The Letdown) sees an opportunity, Red is willing to take it, and employment and a whole new world follows. Still, Viv can't see how going full Dolly can pay the bills, withholding her support. Also at home, Red's friendship with her best mate Francis (Thomas Campbell, Love and Monsters) feels the strain.

Just like its protagonist, embracing this trip down the impersonator rabbit hole — using a Parton-shaped key and plenty of pluck — is easy for Seriously Red. It revels in the look and feel of all things Dolly from outfits to paraphernalia; if something is adorned in a Parton-esque way, this film will likely always love it, short of the flick becoming a movie version of Dollywood. Plunging into the Copy World happens with just as much spirit and affection, and with gags like Dannii Minogue as a Dannii Minogue impersonator. Trevor Ashley's Barbra Streisand tribute gets a whirl, and everyone from Elton John and Freddie Mercury to Madonna and George Michael scores a doppelgänger. If The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Muriel's Wedding spring to mind — because movies about taking to the stage in big, camp theatrical displays based around music legends has long been in Aussie cinema's DNA — there's a tangible link to the former courtesy of Oscar-winning costume designer Tim Chappel.

It should come as no surprise, too, that Boylan's script has Red team up with a Kenny Rogers impersonator (Daniel Webber, Billy the Kid), including to do more than croon 'Islands in the Stream'. In the business, as she flits around the country and even the world busting out her best Dolly, there's no shortage of people who respect the gig — Bobby Cannavale (The Watcher) plays Wilson, an ex-Neil Diamond impersonator-turned-agency owner, as another example — but Seriously Red's Kenny is something else. He lives like his hero 24/7, right down to the attire, locks and facial hair. He's also made 'The Gambler' singer's moniker legally his. And, he's the impetus for Red making a similarly hearty commitment, then also evaluating whether Dolly or Red should actually come first.

Glimmering with the same fantastical vibe that gleefully silly recent new instant comedy classic Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar also boasted — cinematographer Toby Oliver lenses both, roving over jewel tones here instead of pastels — there's more verve and attitude than poise to Seriously Red. That always feels fitting. There's a scrappiness to being even the best impersonator, as Red's Parton shows; over and over, she sums up the bulk of the movie. While the film can fall on the awkward side of comic, and its dramatic beats aren't quite in tune (see: Red's conflicts with her family and friends), that can-do attitude keeps shining. Of course a feature about taking a big swing does that itself again and again. Of course a picture about adoring and taking life advice from a legend that has never let anyone else define her, and has proven the epitome of kindness-fuelled resilience over her time in the spotlight, dances to its own song as well. 

Parton's music isn't always as bright as her smile, though, a truth that Seriously Red also works with. This Dolly-approved flick — with her likeness so prominent and her music instrumental, including sung by both Boylan and the artist herself, it couldn't have happened without Parton's seal of approval — grapples with Red's lows as well as highs. It shows the impact that her self-centred behaviour has on others, too, and the way the world often beams anything but sunshine her way. As an actor, Boylan weathers those ebbs and flows with adaptability and commitment. As a performer playing an aspiring performer whose whole routine is based on another performer, she ensures that Red's raw edges are never buffed away. As a writer, Boylan noticeably leans on tropes, but Seriously Red doesn't need to beg its viewers to have an entertaining time.

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