Not content with co-funding a vaccine in the middle of a pandemic—no, really, that’s a thing she just did—Dolly Parton just finally put out a seasonal television event that she appears in for longer than five minutes. (It’s a Christmas miracle!)
Naturally, I felt compelled to watch Christmas on the Square and report back, minute-by-schmaltzy-minute, for all those (like me) who love Dolly Parton but passionately hate musicals. Now at least you’ll know exactly what you’re dealing with. (And yes, that means spoilers...)
0:01: The movie opens with our hero, Dolly Parton, dressed like she’s down on her luck and asking for “Change” in the town square. She remains nonchalant despite being under attack from what looks like a rogue team of fireflies.
0:02: The opening musical number is like an over-zealous Old Navy commercial—full of colorful sweaters, a spectrum of ages, and what can only be described as multicultural scissor kicking.
0:03: One man just sang to his daughter about thermal underwear and I have questions.
0:04: A silver fox with ‘Martin Sheen in Grace and Frankie’ energy just showed up. Someone at Netflix is pushing this particular old man aesthetic hard.
0:05: “To the best Christmas gift we’ve ever given each other,” toasts a man named Pastor Christian who’s giving off distinctly gay vibes. Is the gift Dior? Tiffany? Cartier? Nope! “Getting fertility treatments is better than anything that comes with paper!” grins his wife. Did not see that coming. On account of the gayness, you see.
0:06: Town villain Regina (Christine Baranski) just rhymed “pastor” with “disaster” and I didn’t hate it.
0:06: Regina is selling the town to a conglomerate named (say it out loud so I know you get it) “Cheetah Mall.” (Oh dear God.)
0:07: Jenifer Lewis just showed up as local hairdresser, Margeline, and for the first time I have hope that I might get through this movie, sanity intact.
0:07: “The higher the hair, the closer to the North Pole!” yells one of Margeline’s dancing boy-stylists. Dolly Parton definitely produced this musical.
0:09: Normal banking business is occurring while three randos casually tap dance in front of the tellers. (You don’t get this at the Civic Center Chase branch...)
0:10: Everyone demonstrates that they’ve been served eviction papers by walking with purpose and also singing while frowning. In all fairness to Regina, it would be exhausting to live in the same town as any of these people.
0:12: Gay Pastor and his wife are singing a love song (to each other, surprisingly) in the square. Even while holding hands, singing “I love you,” and wrinkling their noses at each other, they have all the sexual chemistry of a tortoise trying to hump a rock.
0:21: Margeline gives Regina bad hair in a fit of revenge for what she’s doing to the town. Dolly Parton definitely produced this musical.
0:22: Turns out that Fake Martin Sheen is Regina’s childhood sweetheart, Carl. Regina tells him to “just sign the deal,” and he replies, “Why didn’t you return my calls?” Probably because of your inability to stay on topic, Carl?
0:23: Okay, so this is also totally off-topic, but there’s a guy who keeps showing up in the background that I like to call The Extra Extra. He chews the scenery like he hasn’t eaten for months and Christmas on the Square is an all-you-can-eat buffet. Here’s what he looks like literally all of the time.
0:24: Regina says Fake Martin Sheen’s shop “isn’t even a general store anymore,” but rather a place filled with “broken dolls and broken dreams.” This prompts Fake Martin Sheen to start singing about random items in his store. It’s hard to focus on what he’s saying though because his hair looks amazing. Dolly Parton definitely produced this musical.
0:29: Panhandler Dolly Parton tells Regina, “I’m gonna get change out of you, one way or the other!” If you’ve ever wanted to see a human woman flog to death the double meaning of the word ‘change,’ Christmas on the Square is definitely the movie for you.
0:31: Regina can’t get her lights to turn on at home. Naturally, this prompts shimmering, dressed-in-all-white Dolly Parton to magically appear in her living room sitting on a cloud and singing. Because—surprise!—she’s not really a panhandler, she’s an angel. (Way to steal the entire plot line of Episode 15 of My So-Called Life, guys.)
[Also: Dear PG&E, if you could just figure out how to create floating cloud Dolly Parton holograms and stick them in the homes of everyone dealing with a mandatory power outage, Californians would hate you much less. Just a thought.]
0:33: Dolly is singing a moving ballad about lighting lamps. She does this while circling the room on her cloud. It is as brilliant and unintentionally hilarious as it sounds.
0:37: During a church meeting, the entire town fantasizes about torturing and killing Regina. Lyrics include: “Maybe we’ll trip her / Maybe we’ll strip her (Oh Lord, don’t do that!) / Maybe we’ll just throw her on the griddle!” Yes, yes. Let’s get our church group together and cook this woman alive shall we?!
0:43: Random townspeople keep getting up in church and sing-speaking their thoughts. It turns out that when this guy in the middle (↓) isn’t singing about thermal underwear and premeditated murder, he foin.
0:46: Everything happening in this church suddenly reminds me of the “We Are The World” video from 1985. Partially because everyone on screen just started holding hands and swaying awkwardly. And partially because I now know how Bob Dylan was feeling when he was caught on camera doing this:
0:48: Regina pays a visit to the local tavern, the Jolly Lamplighter. Eight-year-old daughter of Sexy Singing Guy offers Regina a whiskey. Regina says, “Aren't you a little young to be a bartender?” The child replies, “I’m an old soul.” Seems legit. Nothing to see here.
0:50: Kid Bartender has a minor existential crisis in song form over her dead mom, before breaking the news to Regina that Regina’s cruelty is, in a roundabout way, responsible for her mom’s death. Regina goes home and has a flashback about her own dad. There are lamps involved. It is hard to care about any of it.
0:56: I’ve just noticed that Regina’s personal assistant is played by So You Think You Can Dance Season 5 winner, Jeanine Mason. We come to find out that Jeanine’s character is also an angel in training. Which conveniently makes space for a gratuitous ballet practice scene in which Angel (did I mention Dolly Parton’s character is literally named Angel?) makes her dance. The ballet is, like, totally a metaphor, you guys, and not at all just an excuse to give Jeanine a dance solo.
1:04: Time for a fairly insufferable 1970s high school dance flashback where Young Regina dances with a dude wearing the worst shirt in history and somehow gets pregnant from doing so. Regina’s dad, fearful of the judgment of the townspeople, forces her to give up the baby. That’s why, all these years later, Regina is dead inside and mad at the whole town. This guy’s shirt.
1:08: Kid Bartender has been in an accident so half the town goes and stands in the hospital parking lot looking sad. Regina finds herself inspired to pray and offers to give up her life in exchange for Kid Bartender’s. (Holy crap, that must have been a good drink.)
1:14: Regina goes to see Fake Martin Sheen and asks for a lantern that belonged to her father that he’s been hoarding. He’s like, “Sure, whatever, one less thing to pack, ya bish.”