After returning to her hometown to attend her father's funeral, Regina (Christine Baranski) announces her intention to sell the town to a land developer. The locals - who include Pastor Christian (Josh Segarra), his wife Felicity (Jeanine Mason), and hairdresser Margeline (Jenifer Lewis) - are appalled. But an angel (played by none other than Dolly Parton) visits Regina to show her the error of her ways. Moreover, getting to know the locals also causes Regina to have a change of heart.
Christmas movies tend to get a free pass when it comes to quality. Netflix's output of them tends to be over abundant and mediocre. And yet, one is charmed by 'Dolly Parton's Christmas on the Square'. This is of course largely due to the elevating presence of Dolly, who also composed the film's fun and catchy numbers. But director Debbie Allen also loads her movie with sweeter than pie characters, and impressive choreography. Additionally, Christine Baranski ('Mamma Mia!', 'Chicago', 'The Good Fight') is an enjoyable lead.
Borrowing from seasonal classics like 'The Grinch', 'It's a Wonderful Life' and 'A Christmas Carol', 'Christmas on the Square' is loaded with cliches. But sure, what else would you expect? Well perhaps not Dolly Parton initially appearing on screen as a very unconvincing homeless person... But Dolly's voice and lyrics are so gorgeous you just set this (and other cringe moments) aside.
The feature kicks off with a spectacular dance that the whole town is involved in. Through the opening number, you're introduced to the ensemble - including a couple who are trying to have a baby, and a sweet kid working at her dad's bar. In fairness, there's a good balance of screen time established between the supports. There's a lot of fun and energy to the numbers, including Margeline's solo, and the town people singing about Regina being a wicked witch. A couple of sob stories are thrown in for good measure. But the most genuinely touching moment is a song sung by Parton about a lamplighter; Baranski's awe of the singer here is highly relatable.
Packed with singing, dancing, cheesiness and conventions, 'Dolly Parton's Christmas on the Square' might be too nicey nice and trite for some. But musical lovers will adore it; and it's so full of feel good factor and heart that it has more than earned a pass.
'Dolly Parton's Christmas on the Square' is streaming on Netflix now.