The year is 1976, Elizabeth (Julia Stone) is an average 11 year old girl, waiting to get her first period, listening to Dolly Parton and talking about breasts. But when a school assignment requires her to find out the blood types of her parents and herself, she realises all is not what it seems in her domestic suburban life. Upon finding out the news Elizabeth decides to take a trip to Minneapolis to find out some answers.
The Year Dolly Parton was my Mom is a nice enjoyable film but that is all. It isn’t remarkable in any respect and is slightly too twee and sentimental at times. It does feature some beautiful shot compositions and the depictions of the landscape and American iconography help to give the film an injection of allure. The colour palette evokes the Seventies perfectly and gorgeous over saturated and out of focus shots give the cheesy story more credit. Visually this film is very nice but unfortunately the story and characters are routine and predictable.
Elizabeth is a likeable enough character and the actress is competent in her role but there is nothing particularly emotionally engaging about this film, nevertheless perhaps I am not the target audience for the film as I am not a teenage girl. The journey that Elizabeth embarks on feels like it is over too quickly and the character she meets at a remote café is far too clichéd. The film feels about the right length but the time given to each act seems disproportionate therefore leaving little time for an emotional build up.
Macha Grenon, who plays Elizabeth’s repressed mother, is a combination reminiscent of Jeanne Tripplehorn’s Barb in Big Love and Jessica Paré’s Megan in Mad Men (minus the sex appeal) and does a good job of portraying the emotional anxiety and development of the character.
The film is abundant with the music of legendary country singer Dolly Parton and a concert by the singer is the catalyst for Elizabeth’s journey. It is a coming of age story and it is nicely told with some great music to enjoy. It may well be a bit cheesy but with Dolly Parton in the title and at the centre of the story then what do you expect?
Written and directed by Canadian Tara Johns, this is the filmmaker’s first foray into feature films and she is a big fan of Dolly Parton. Tara managed to get the script for the film into Dolly Parton’s hand who then wrote a letter back to the director praising her wonderful script and saying how flattered she was. Dolly provides the voiceover in the film and genuine vintage footage is also used, therefore without her approval the film would not have been possible. Dolly’s feminist views are also incorporated into the story but unfortunately they feel rather like they are shoehorned in.
Overall the film was not as good as it could have been but it remains an inoffensive and entertaining slice of nostalgia. If you are a fan of Dolly Parton and feel good coming of age of films then this is definitely for you.
Director: Tara Johns
Writer: Tara Johns
Stars: Gil Bellows, Macha Grenon, Dolly Parton and Julia Sarah Stone
Runtime: 95 mins