SERIOUSLY RED

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Gracie Otto

Stars: Krew Boylan, Thomas Campbell, Daniel Webber, Celeste Barber, Jean Kittson, Bobby Cannavale, Rose Byrne, Tony Barry, Wayne Blair.

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Seriously Red is a cautionary tale about obsession, fandom, and discovering who you are. This Australian jukebox musical draws from the songbook of iconic singer Dolly Parton, and in style and look is something of a throwback to the 90s. The film is the brainchild of star and writer Krew Boylan (from tv series A Place To Call Home, etc) and director Gracie Otto.  

Boylan plays Raelene Delaney, a thirtysomething Dolly Parton obsessed woman working in a real estate office, known as “Red” to her colleagues because of her red hair. She is disorganised and awkward, and not very good at her job. Personality-wise she is a little aggressive and suffers from low self-esteem. She is bored with her job and is regarded as the office clown by her colleagues. She lives in the converted garage at the rear of her mother’s house, and her life is considered something of a disappointment by her mother Viv (comedian Jean Kittson) who disapproves of her lifestyle choices. Raelene turns up to the office annual awards night dressed as Dolly Parton and feels humiliated and uncomfortable, but she gains confidence when she belts out Parton’s iconic hit 9 To 5.  

Her performance captures the attention of Teeth (Celeste Barber), a talent scout who works for Genuine Copies, a company that employs celebrity impersonators. She is introduced to the company’s boss Wilson (Bobby Cannavale), a sleazy Neil Diamond impersonator and sets out to impress him. It’s off to Tamworth, the home of country music, where she is paired with Kenny (Daniel Webster, from Escape From Pretoria, etc), a Kenny Rogers impersonator who lives and breathes Kenny 24/7. The pair proves to be a hit with audiences and before long they are touring the country as a headlining act. But soon the line between performance and reality starts to blur for Raelene and she begins to live her life as Dolly offstage as well and soon loses her own sense of identity. And cracks begin to appear in her relationship with Kenny.  

This is Otto’s debut fictional feature and it follows a couple of acclaimed documentaries with Under The Volcano, which looked at George Martin’s recording studio in Martinique, and The Last Impresario, which explored the life and legacy of entrepreneur Michael White, who produced over 300 theatre shows and 50 movies in his career. Unfortunately, Seriously Red is not that great a film and fails to capitalise on its off-beat premise. Many attempts at humour fall flat and Otto’s pacing is uneven with a few flat patches and subplots that go nowhere interesting. And the third act doesn’t quite hang together as Raelene tries to put her life back in order. However, the film’s soundtrack features plenty of Parton’s classic hits, which should please fans of the singer, and many of her catchy and inspiring aphorisms are writ large across the screen, including the bon mot “Find out who you are and do it on purpose,” which seems apropos to Raelene’s search for self. 

Raelene is a complex character; this is the biggest role of Boylan’s career to date, and she inhabits the character with an enthusiastic performance. The strong supporting cast includes Thomas Campbell (from tv series Love My Way, etc) as Francis, Raelene’s childhood friend, staunch supporter and co-worker and would be romantic interest; Wayne Blair as Viv’s latest suitor; and Rose Byrne (who was apparently instrumental in helping to secure the rights to Parton’s music) who is bizarrely cast as an Elvis impersonator. Veteran Tony Barry is wasted in a fairly thankless role as Raelene’s grandfather.  

Toby Oliver’s cinematography is bright and colourful, and there are some fabulous costumes from Tim Chappel (The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert) that add to the film’s camp tone. 

★★☆

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