Movie Review: A Dolly Impersonator struggles to be “Seriously Red”

Aussie actress Krew Boylan turns out to be a better Dolly Parton impersonator than screenwriter in “Seriously Red,” her self-scripted star vehicle. It’s a self-serious and seriously-confusing identity crisis comedy tucked into what might have been a gender role romp of the “Connie & Carla” variety.

Boylan can Smoky Mountain drawl like Dolly, and offer a fair impression of Parton’s keening Appalachian soprano. But the movie she’s built around her redheaded stepchild of a character is too sexual to be cutesy, and too cutesy to have anything like the edge that seems to have been Boylan’s intent.

We meet “Red” at a “serious misunderstanding.” She’s a real estate assessor who isn’t really making it at work. And for some reason, she’s shown up at the company office party in full Dolly regalia. She’s been obsessed with her since her tweens.

What starts off like a painfully awkward “misread the room” moment can only be turned around by remembering whatever Dolly Partonism — those little pearls that Country Music’s Living Saint has been dropping since she became famous — applies.

“Storms make trees with deeper roots,” maybe? “If you don’t like the road you’re walkin’, start pavin’ a new one!”

“Red” launches into “9 to 5” and saves the day, only to get carried away and fired the next day.

But opportunity knocks in the form of “Teeth” (Celeste Barber), a manager of “tribute performers” like “The World’s Best Impersonator,” a Kenny Rogers (Daniel Webber) act that gets by mainly on facial hair. He barely sounds like Kenny.

What’s a Kenny without a Dolly? Let’s team them up and take this show to Hong Kong! Just don’t ask “Teeth” how she got her nickname, and where her spare set ended up growing.

Has Red finally found what she’s good at? Might Kenny, who is DEEP into character and DEEP into Dolly, be “the one?” How deep might Red go to “become” her idol?

And will Red’s disapproving single Mum (Jean Kitson) finally give her a little credit and a little peace?

I had a bit of trouble getting a handle on what Boylan was going for, here.

Is this a simple matter of Red realizing she needs to be herself, that “What would the world DO with two Dolly Partons?” is the only question, at the end of the day?

Is this about establishing her own identity, outside of her stage persona?

Just what is Red’s deal, anyhow? At that initial office party, she has a fling with “EP,” an insolent and obviously feminine Elvis impersonator played with wit by Rose Byrne, before taking up with Kenny, after co-starring with him and clicking onstage as a duet…at drag club. There’s even a joke where it’s implied that the shirtless Aussie Village People in the audience assume Red’s a drag queen playing Dolly.

So, she’s not “binary” and not really addressing that?

Francis (Thomas Campbell), her always-supporter BFF, gives off gay vibes when we meet him, but it turns out he crushes on “Red” hard, carrying a torch, the works.

The movie’s sexual confusion may speak to our acronym-mad “on the sexual spectrum” era, but it gets in the way of this story’s easy comprehension. Red’s nudity and a memorable toilet break or two are what passes for “edge” here.

There are some tingly musical moments, and other impersonators — Bobby Cannavale plays a major “tribute performer” talent booker who also does a better-than-average Neil Diamond — and drag queens nicely flesh out the milieu.

Boylan, Byrne and Cannavale are the acting highlights here, with two of the three not given enough to do.

But there’s no “set” scene that we’re in, here. That’s probably not as big a shortcoming as the film’s never-quite-amusing nature and the fact that it lacks the inspired madness of a “Muriel’s Wedding” or “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” the two films this might have resembled had Boylan picked one to pay homage to, or a plot and a subtext or two that resonated.

At some point, “Seriously Red” gives up and settles for being seriously disappointing.

Rating: unrated, sex, nudity

Cast: Krew Boylan, Daniel Webber, Celeste Barber, Thomas Campbell, Bobby Cannavale and Rose Byrne

Credits: Directed by Gracie Otto, scripted by Krew Boylan. A Lionsgate/Gravitas release.

Running time: 1:44


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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