There’s a piece of advice RuPaul often imparts to the drag queens competing on his hit reality TV show, RuPaul’s Drag Race, that essentially says “the power available to you in drag is also available to you out of drag.” It’s a bit like Glenda telling Dorothy that she had the power to go home all along, she just wouldn’t have believed it without the journey — the things that make you feel confident and powerful were within you the whole time, even when those tools are seemingly inaccessible.
That’s the basic premise of Gracie Otto‘s Seriously Red, an endearing little comedy about a woman named Red (Krew Boylan) who dumps her humdrum desk job for a shot at portraying her idol, Dolly Parton, in a touring show of celebrity impersonators. At first, the opportunity seems to bring her the attention she’s always dreamed of, giving her the confidence to step outside her box and live someone else’s life. But the weight of being another person soon begins to weigh on her, and her relationships with her friends and family become strained as she disappears deeper into her character. The woman she idolized as a symbol of free-spiritedness and self-actualization soon becomes a prison as she takes her messages a bit too literally.
Filled to the brim with a host of classic Dolly tunes and boasting a delightful central performance by Boylan, Seriously Red puts a new spin on the oft-told tale of finding oneself by letting its protagonist quite literally lose herself in another role. Set amongst a kooky cast of celebrity wannabes — including Rose Byrne as an Elvis impersonator and Bobby Cannavale as a former Neil Diamond — the film wears its outsized heart on its sleeve, but its earnestness thankfully never comes across as cloying or insincere. Seriously Red may not register with the same impact of, say, Harmony Korine’s similarly themed Mr. Lonely, but fans of Dolly Parton (and let’s face it, who isn’t?) will certainly find lots to enjoy in this loving paean to Dolly’s effervescent spirit and embodiment of self-love.
Published as part of SXSW Film Festival 2022 — Dispatch 3.