Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square (2020)

Full disclosure, I recently kind of forgot that Netflix existed. It’s one of my browser shortcuts, for fuck’s sake! I’ve been so focused on the amazing garbage Tubi is constantly offering that new releases people would actually have heard of were slipping me by. Case in point, did you know that Mrs. Dolly Parton had Netflix-original Christmas musical that came out at the end of November? Because I didn’t! But I do now, so here we go!

The story follows Regina (Christine Baranski), a mean woman who has returned to her hometown after the death of her father. While everyone is in the Christmas spirit, she’s selling the literal ground under their feet to build the biggest mall ever, a plot point that seems laughable in 2020. Dolly Parton plays Angel, a guardian angel who is trying to get Regina to be less of a bitch. But twist! Regina’s assistant is also an angel in training and Dolly’s subordinate! The two try to work their magic, but Regina’s heart is closed off due to a fucked up past. See, when she was a teen she saw her boyfriend show a ring to another girl and thinking that he was proposing to this unnamed teenager, Regina ran into the arms of a male unnamed “teenager.” One pregnancy later, her father steals the baby away and puts it up for adoption. Now I know that sounds dark, but believe me, it’s actually darker. Regina eventually finds out that her long-lost son is actually Pastor Christian, played by… um… oh. He’s played by Josh Segarra, who I know as Adrian Chase on Arrow. So that’s why everything he says comes off incredibly sinister to me! Anyway, reunited with her son and feeling good after finding out a young girl she had a conversation with earlier has recovered from a car crash, Regina’s heart grows three sizes and she stops the mass eviction. Christmas is saved!

This was decent. A solid 3 out of 5 movie. The general story is your standard “rich person has no Christmas spirit and wants to close down the thing the people love” plot, but has some real good moments as well as some that are fucking bonkers. The scene where Regina has a song with the young girl (who is also a bartender??) is my favorite scene, so Regina’s shock at finding out that she was involved in a car accident later felt genuine. But then there’s stuff like Pastor Christian trying to have a baby with his wife, a plot that ends when Angel uses angel magic on her womb. Not creepy at all! And then there’s the whole ring thing. It’s obviously a miscommunication trope; he was showing the nameless girl the ring to make sure it was good enough for Regina, right? Well… we get no confirmation. In fact, outside of her memory of the incident, the ring and/or a proposal is never mentioned, not even at the end when she’s reunited with her lost love and he doesn’t despise her for trying to evict him. I felt like that should have gone literally anywhere.

How does one film a musical during a pandemic? Though using a bunch of green screening, apparently! For those who don’t know, “green screen” is the technique where you film a scene against a bright green screen, and then digitally replace the green with the appropriate background. You can set a scene just about anywhere this way, but you can also film people separately and then digitally insert them together. The green screen is strong with this film and early on my friends and I noticed that Dolly Parton wasn’t really interacting with anything around her like the other people, suggesting she wasn’t there when they filmed the scene. And then there are the church dance numbers! I swear I could see the reflection of the green screen in Pastor Christian’s hair. If you look closely you can see a weird effect around the silhouettes of people, a common result of filming against a green screen and not on location. I can’t solidly prove it, but it would absolutely make sense to film dance numbers with less than a dozen people at a time and then add it all together in post production rather than have 40 performers on set at the same time. Which is pretty smart, really. Let’s see if more films do something similar.

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