Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square (2020)
Director: Debbie Allen
Screenwriter: Maria S. Schlatter
Starring: Dolly Parton, Christina Baranski, Jenifer Lewis, Josh Segarra, Mary Lane Haskell
As we find ourselves entering into an era of Christmas movies taking precedent over all other forms of entertainment, Netflix brings us Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square. Netflix themselves have been responsible for the most amount of Christmas films since Hallmark launched their own channel for romantic “dramas” (for lack of a better term) set around the holidays. Now commonly being referred to as the NCU (Netflix Christmas Universe), a play on the hugely successful MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), we are being spoilt for choice during Christmas 2020 with no less than seventeen original Netflix productions being added to the widely popular streaming service, chief among the early contenders being this Debbie Allen film.
Opening in the crowded, festive town square of Fullerville with a pristinely choreographed dance number, Christmas on the Square does exactly what it says on the tin. The opening number, with a killer runtime of 11 minutes 32 seconds, is long, repetitive and makes High School Musical look Oscar-worthy.
Dolly Parton features as an angel named… Angel; a gift from the Gods disguised as a homeless person begging for change, change that will take on new meaning as the film progresses. All seems happy and cheery with a heavy sprinkle of festive joy until our pantomime style villain enters the scene. Regina (Baranski) whirls into the town like an uninvited hurricane with intensions to demolish cosy cottages, local businesses and family livelihoods all for the sake of building a new shopping mall.
A pastor named (you guessed it) Christian (Segarra) and his wife (Haskell) wish for nothing but a child, but when the news of the town being torn down comes to them, they take to the town council and start a petition against it, putting their dreams of a family on the back burner. This is the first of Regina’s hurdles to overcome, as she soon finds herself also dealing with a tween bar maid and a dispute with her best friend. With the help of Angel and the townsfolk, Regina finds a path to redemption whilst uncovering some unexpected truths about her past.
The performances of Christina Baranski and Jenifer Lewis (The Princess and the Frog) are the only things holding the whole thing together, with the rest of the cast offering distinctly poor turns. The supporting actors, despite having pleasant singing voices, lack any form of muster and make poor attempts at powering emotional scenes.
Jam packed with offensive stereotypes – a gay couple working (and voguing) in a hair salon, a married couple owning a baby store but unable to have a baby, a rich white person trying to evict a poor black person (despite them being old friends) – Christmas on the Square has far too many sub-plots to even attempt to keep up with the principle characters, and more songs than any Christmas movie musical requires. In this case, less would have been so much more.
A story of redemption, family, community and (above all else) Christmas, Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square is certainly festive, but it is also cheesy to the point of uncomfortable in parts, with all of the film’s below standard aspects being glued together by some unwatchable CGI.