SXSW 2022: Seriously Red

Directed by: Gracie Otto
Distributed by: TBD

Written by Patrick Hao


There are no universal truths in the world. But the closest thing to it is that everyone loves Dolly Parton. The country music star has built a feminist brand name for herself, an amusement park called Dollywood, and has had a slew of films based on the power of her inspiration. “Seriously Red” proves that the maxim that Dolly is one of the most beloved pop culture figures even extends out to Australia in this light comedy about self-acceptance.

Directed by Gracie Otto, “Seriously Red” harkens back to the 90s era of inspirational comedies that became crossover successes in the state. Quirky films like “Strictly Ballroom,” “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” and “Muriel’s Wedding” made stars out of director Baz Luhrmann, and actors Hugo Weaving and Toni Collette. The same is possible for “Seriously Red” star Krew Boylan, who also wrote the screenplay. She plays Raylene “Red” Delaney, a self-conscious real estate agent who is persuaded by her friend Francis (Thomas Campbell) to join a costume contest. Red decides to don a blonde wig to cover her fiery red hair and become Dolly Parton, which proves to be a success when she performs Parton’s hit “9 To 5.”

This attracts the attention of Teeth (Celeste Barber) and Wilson (Bobby Cannavale), a Neil Diamond impersonator, who runs a traveling celebrity impersonator group. Their traveling band of misfits expects their performers to inhabit their personas 24/7 and include an Elvis (Rose Byrne who also produced the movie) and Kenny Rogers (Daniel Webber). As one expects from a movie like this, Red at first feels a surge of confidence inhabiting her idol, but soon finds that she can no longer distinguish herself from the part she is playing.

The whole film has an element of camp to it, both in its outlandishness and its earnestness in its ridiculousness. It is these elements that have made the films from the 90s mentioned above the cult hits that they have become. “Seriously Red,” however, does not have the inventions that those earlier influences might have. It does not have the lavish feel of Luhrmann, the antics of “Priscilla,” nor the magnetic appeal of Toni Collette. Combine that with a shallow script that feels riddled with cliches for films of this ilk.

That is not to say that either Otto’s filmmaking or Boylan as a star is not engaging. Otto is working with a limited budget and tries to make the most of it, attempting to elevate the musical performances. Boylan also brings enough pathos to her performance to ground the looney premise. Add appealing extended cameo performances from Byrne and Cannavale and “Seriously Red” might gain a following when it inevitably becomes part of a vast catalog from a streamer. If anything, the soundtrack featuring mainly Dolly Parton songs is enough to get by.

“Seriously Red” was screened as part of the 2022 edition of the SXSW Film Festival.

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