[Review] ‘CHRISTMAS ON THE SQUARE’ – Dolly Parton sings, spreads cheer like the Dickens in this Christmas carol


Travis Leamons // Film Critic


Rated TV-PG, 98 minutes.
Director: Debbie Allen
Cast: Dolly Parton, Christine Baranski, Treat Williams, Jenifer Lewis, Josh Segarra, Jeanine Mason, and Mary Lane Haskell

“If we could just be peaceful, if we could just try to work through things with a little more peace, a little more love, a little more harmony, a little more understanding. I pray about it every day.”

Dolly Parton shared the above quote during a profile piece as part of USA TODAY’s “Women of the Century” this past summer. She’s right and is doubly deserving of being mentioned with Rosa Parks, Gloria Steinem, Billie Jean King, Hellen Keller, fellow entertainers Aretha Franklin, and Rita Moreno. A Tennessee gal and 100 percent authentic – regardless of what her plastic surgery bills may infer – Dolly rose to be a powerhouse in country music. Queen of a musical genre once dominated by honky-tonkers and rockabillies before country shifted to adult contemporary with a few outlaws (like Willie Nelson) in the mix. She built an empire with The Dollywood Company, and her philanthropic work (in the area of literacy, especially) looms larger than her signature curves.  

Having donated a generous amount to research a vaccine for COVID-19, Dolly’s spirit of giving hasn’t stopped there this year. For the holiday season, she is spreading joy and merriment in gifting all of us cloistered folk with a new Christmas album (“A Holly Dolly Christmas”), a network music special of the same name, plus CHRISTMAS ON THE SQUARE, a movie musical for Netflix. 

Dropping a few days before Thanksgiving, this musical is something the whole family can enjoy. Provided your household digs Dolly. Anyone who claims to not like her in the slightest is either lying or just a grinch whose heart is two sizes too small. 2020 has been an upside-down year, causing many of us to ditch working 9 to 5 (what a way to make a living), and has turned many of us into a bunch of Scrooges; it just makes sense to take Charles Dickens’s timeless classic, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, and give it a heaping dollop of holly Dolly cheer. 

That’s what we get with CHRISTMAS ON THE SQUARE. Netflix lists the musical as being campy, heartfelt, feel-good, and inspiring on its website. All true. From the lively opening dance number in the town square of Fullerville, where residents frolic and sing as if it were their vocation, to its more intimate and introspective songs (“Light Your Lamp” is quite the soul-stirrer), this musical fantasy from Emmy-winner Debbie Allen, who both choreographs and directs, is a holiday treat. 

CHRISTMAS ON THE SQUARE is like consuming those Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cakes, where you rip cellophane as if it were a present from Santa. It may not be good for your midsection, but it’s so delightful. The total opposite of that unopened fruitcake from 2018 that you’re thinking about re-gifting.

The story is pretty simple. The heiress of the town, Regina Fuller (Christine Baranski), has come back to her birthplace to bestow old friends and acquaintances with the gift of eviction. The town is being sold to a shopping mall developer. Our Ebenezer is a real Cruella, and a lot of other things not meant to be said in church or within earshot of small children. Regina has her reasons, but she gives little consideration to those proud to call Fullerville home. People like her longtime friend, Margeline (Jenifer Lewis), a hairstylist and salon proprietor, and former high school flame Carl Pellam (Treat Williams), who runs the general store. 

Problems start to mount. At her age, Margeline doesn’t want to start over in a new town. Pastor Hathaway (Josh Segarra) and his wife Jenna (Mary lane Haskell) are struggling to conceive. Then there’s the precocious Violet (Selah Kimbro Jones), who is the victim of a tragic accident. 

 Fullerville needs is a miracle – or an angel. 

Hello, Dolly.    

The country queen looks to make right, guiding Regina as she reexamines events from her past. Dolly Parton as Angel shows that just because your name is Fuller doesn’t mean your full of life. Christmas is a season of change, inside and out. As the days countdown and with foreclosure forthcoming, not even Regina and a tousled hairdo can resist a silver lining or two. 

CHRISTMAS ON THE SQUARE may play like a bunch of humbug for the Christmas cranks out there. Yes, it is corny and hokey. But if you need a lift, it is okey-dokey. So, grab yourself a glass of eggnog and a cookie treat and play it until your heart feels complete…because there’s no beg your pardon for Ms. Dolly Parton.    

Grade: B

CHRISTMAS ON THE SQUARE is now available on Netflix.

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