12 Days of Netflix: Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square
Ivan Radford | On 20, Dec 2020
Director: Debbie Allen
Cast: Christine Baranski, Josh Segarra, Dolly Parton
Watch Christmas on the Square online in the UK: Netflix UK
“Christmas is a time for caring, being at your best. Christmas is a time for sharing, knowing you’ve been blessed.” That’s the sound of Dolly Parton taking to Netflix to teach us all a thing or two about Christmas – and while Christmas on the Square doesn’t teach us anything new, you don’t come away from it resenting the teacher.
The film, directed by Debbie Allen, is modern-day A Christmas Carol, introducing us to smalltown Scrooge Regina (the always-fabulous Christine Baranski). The daughter of Fullerville’s wealthy founder, she inherits the town when he passes away – and promptly decides to sell it off to a company wanting to turn it into a shopping mall. If that sounds an awful lot like the plot to Christmas Land, also on Netflix, you’re forgetting the secret ingredient in Christmas on the Square: the country singing legend whose name goes above the title.
She pops up right from the opening song and dance number in the town square, dressed as a beggar and asking for change from Regina. That’s the kind of film Christmas on the Square is: the kind where a wise, easily dismissed stranger waves about a box with the word “CHANGE” written on it in capital letters. The next time we see her, she’s unveiled as a full-on guardian angel, appearing to Regina in a costume of the brightest white – and the shiniest rhinestones – while floating on a CGI cloud. Every time she speaks, she moves up and down in the air like a Stenna stairlift advert gone wrong.
If you can get on board with that, then you won’t have any trouble with the rest of the town’s residents, from the priest called Christian (Josh Segarra) to elderly shopkeeper who still holds a flame for Regina. He reveals this to her while singing a song about how his second-hand shop isn’t full of junk – a contender for the film’s unlikeliest musical set piece, vying closely with the song about a couple undergoing IVF and a church congregation uniting to sing about how they’d like to physically harm their local Ebenezer.
To say Christmas on the Square is unsubtle would be an understatement, but it’s an impressive feat of songwriting, with Parton bringing more than a dozen tracks to the party. But not each track is a classic, with a back-and-forth row between Regina and her childhood friend-turned-hairdressed, Margeline (Jennifer Lewis), more awkward than entertaining. Nonetheless, there’s wit to be found in the lyrics – including a nod to It’s a Wonderful Life in the first song – and Debbie Allen directs each sequence with an enjoyably old-school style and an eye for sweeping ensemble choreography.
Screenwriter Maria Schlatter stitches this all together with no lack of sentiment and, while Parton’s open-hearted philosophy is commendable, it’s not enough to redeem a narrative that manages to be both predictable and aimless for most of the runtime. Along the way, though, are tiny nuggets of gold, with one standout scene between Regina and the daughter of a local pub owner resulting in a delightfully wise exchange. “Christmas is a time for caring, being at your best,” Christmas on the Square reminds us. The film certainly manages the first part.
Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.