SERIOUSLY RED – Review by Valerie Kalfrin
With her homespun humor, sharp wit, and undeniable talent, Dolly Parton is a beloved inspiration—not just in the United States but around the world.
Yet what makes someone want to be Dolly 24-7 gets short shrift in the dramatic comedy Seriously Red. Writer and star Krew Boylan is a likable and believable Parton impersonator in this tale about finding your voice in someone else’s heels, but the humor and emotional beats never fully click.
Directed by Gracie Otto (Under the Volcano), Seriously Red starts off on a promising foot, as real estate appraiser Raylene (Boylan, The Secrets She Keeps), a redhead nicknamed “Red,” practically dances out the door of her latest assessment. She’s itching to doll up as Dolly for a company banquet that night.
Yet when no one else appears in costume except an Elvis impersonator that her boss hired, Raylene is embarrassed. She bottles those feelings, turns on her best Tennessee twang, strums her fingernails to the beat of Parton’s hit 9 to 5, and belts out the song with gusto, spurring everyone to dance.
Teeth (Celeste Barber, The Letdown), the manager of “Elvis” (Rose Byrne, Physical, an executive producer) and other “mimics,” thinks this Dolly isn’t half bad. She invites Raylene to audition for more gigs, and soon Raylene is piling on three bras under frilly costumes, cracking wise as Dolly at drag shows, and landing an extended tour with a handsome “Kenny Rogers” (Daniel Webber, Billy the Kid). Costume designer Tim Chappel (Dancing with the Stars), the hair and makeup team, and a soundtrack heavy with hits like Islands in the Stream and Jolene helps sell Raylene’s road to success.
Seriously Red finds humor in Raylene’s hookups with both “Elvis” and “Kenny,” both of whom want the illusion of Dolly during sex. (“Kenny” invites her to move in with him by warbling We’ve Got Tonight.) Boylan gamely handles the physical comedy, but the scattered humorous moments, including a musical sequence with an overhead shot of dancing doctors and nurses during plastic surgery, create an overall uneven tone.
Raylene’s needling mother (Jean Kittson, Get Krack!n) gives viewers an idea of why Raylene might want to be someone else—but why Parton? Plenty of Americans (me included) consider her a national treasure, and the film peppers in plenty of quotes from her, either through Raylene’s dialogue or supers onscreen, such as, “It’s hard to be a diamond in a rhinestone world.” But what’s the allure of Dolly Down Under? We never learn where that love for Dolly began, why it’s so fervent, or why Raylene wants to embody her.
Seriously Red also offers little conflict, leaving the film spinning its wheels way before the ending. Bobby Cannavale (The Watcher), as a former Neil Diamond impersonator, and Thomas Campbell (Love and Monsters), as Raylene’s best buddy, warn her that being someone else leaves little room for herself, but the film doesn’t show Raylene missing her regular self, save for an unconvincing and convenient finale.
Seriously Red has loads of affection for Parton, but its character development is only skin-deep.