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SXSW Review: In “Seriously Red,” Dolly Parton Is the Way Forward

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | March 22nd, 2022

“Seriously Red” director Gracie Otto. Photo by Jake Terrey.

Seriously Red (Gracie Otto, 2022) 2½ out of 4 stars.

“Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” Thus spoke Dolly Parton at one point in her life. And she is very much front and center in Seriously Red, the new film from Australian director Gracie Otto (Under the Volcano), written by its star, Krew Boylan. Unfortunately, that part about finding out one’s true self gets largely forgotten by central character Raylene (Boylan)—aka “Red”—as she launches herself into a career as a Parton impersonator. Perhaps, however, she’ll discover an identity of her own by living as someone else, especially the role model she’s chosen. Watching her efforts is the major appeal of this uneven, though often engaging, movie.

Red is not the only impersonator in the story. In fact, she’s surrounded by others with careers in the peculiar industry of celebrity doubles. She doesn’t start out that way, however, for when we first meet her she is working for a home realty company. Bored with her job, she comes alive at the office party, dressing up as Dolly Parton and performing “9 to 5.” As great as she is, though, everyone sees her as more of a clown than a star (her drinking doesn’t help). Except, that is, for best friend Frank (Thomas Campbell, Love and Monsters), who perhaps wishes he was more than that to her, but is still around to offer Red his full support.

l-r: Bobby Cannavale and Krew Boylan in SERIOUSLY RED ©Dollhouse Pictures

One thing leads to another, and before long Red is out of a job and looking for another, making her way to a drag and impersonator bar run by Wilson (Bobby Cannavale, Amazon’s Homecoming series), who has a whole Neil Diamond look going on. Though she is by far not the only Parton-wannabe, Red wins the day with her gumption and talent, put on the road with a Kenny Rogers doppelgänger (Daniel Webber, Escape from Pretoria). As she falls deeper into a lifestyle that gives her everything she believes she’s always wanted, will Red lose or find herself in the experience? That is the central dramatic question of the piece.

It’s a lively existential meditation, for sure, filled with equal parts humor and drama. Boylan is an engaging performer, as are her costars, including Rose Byrne (Like a Boss) as an Elvis Presley lookalike. Whether Byrne is supposed to be donning male drag or playing a man, it doesn’t matter, and that is the charm.

l-r: Krew Boylan and Rose Byrne in SERIOUSLY RED ©Dollhouse Pictures

Sadly, these positives do not always win the day, the narrative sometimes drifting into overlong scenes that either excessively spell what is already clear or marinate in an awkwardness that does nothing for tone or plot. Nevertheless, Seriously Red, by its end, proves more successful than not, thanks to Boylan and company and the infinite joys of Parton, even if by proxy.


Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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