Coat of Many Colors re-creates Dolly Parton’s Tennessee childhood

10 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors': Singer’s life is adapted for small screen.

Early in “Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors,” NBC’s dramatization of Dolly Parton’s song about her impoverished youth in Tennessee, the 9-year-old Dolly is hiding alone in the barn, talking to God: “I’d rather be plain ugly than just plain,” she tells Him.Leave it to Dolly Parton to bring out an innocuously sweet, faith-based, prime-time Christmas movie right in the middle of a religious and political culture war over who gets to say what, believe what, or live wherever and however they choose.Dolly Parton offered information but no advice to the remaining contestants on NBC’s The Voice as she visited the TV singing competition on Tuesday, December 8th. She looks, according to her angry mother as she wipes off the gunk, like a “harlot.” That’s our lovable Dolly, now 69, whose abundant makeup remains a linchpin of her brand of countrified glamour, a kind of war paint that she applies as an entertainment-industry heavy-hitter, and a model for drag queens near and far.

Strumming an acoustic guitar, Parton delivered a gentle, somewhat haunting version of the fan favorite that the singer-songwriter said is “just a sweet little song [that] means more to me than the others.” The tune was written about a handmade coat Parton’s mother Avie Lee sewed together for her when she was a young girl. Starting off as a 12-year-old singer, she went from local TV to the Grand Ole Orpy, eventually recording more than 40 albums and penning arguably the most well-known song in history, “I Will Always Love You.” Miss Parton has also starred in “9 Top 5,” “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” and “Steel Magnolias.” She even has her own theme park, Dollywood. She has always worn her look, a mixture of televangelist garishness and exaggerated femininity, with an appealing amount of pride and humor, and the makeup scene is an affectionate nod to that. The song’s blunt lessons of humility and self-worth are expanded here into a fuller narrative that’s based on some other events from Parton’s “dirt-poor” girlhood in the Great Smoky Mountains in the 1950s.

One of 12 children from a poor family raised in the backwoods of east Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains, Parton is now one of the world’s wealthiest, most recognizable women but remains humble when it comes to sharing her gift of song. The movie tells the story of Parton growing up in her large family, the mother of which is portrayed by singer Jennifer Nettles of the country group Sugarland. After her performance, host Carson Daly asked her about her time spent with the aspiring singers who are currently in the semi-finals of The Voice. “They were so sweet and so nice.

The song and the movie tell the tale of Miss Parton’s humble and poor Tennessee beginnings and how the real gifts in life come from the heart, not a store. As an indication of her celebrity status, she opens and closes the TV special from Dollywood, which is her lavish theme park, located not far from where she grew up. She created Dollywood there in the mid-1980s as a moneymaking operation, of course, but she also built it as a monument to the region and as a much-needed local employer. When Dolly’s mother, Avie (played with impressive resolve by country singer Jennifer Nettles), gives birth prematurely to a son who dies, the Parton family plunges into grief.

A biopic about Liberace titled “Behind the Candelabra” aired on HBO in 2013 and not only proved popular but also netted an Emmy for outstanding miniseries or movie and Emmy acting nominations for stars Matt Damon and Scott Bakula (Michael Douglas won a Golden Globe for his acting work). Marital discord takes over, as Dolly’s tobacco-farming father, Lee (Ricky Schroder, now entering the rugged Cialis demographic), moves out to the barn after a series of heated arguments. In addition, critics have been noting the themes of faith in “Coat,” with religion being presented as an important part of Parton’s family’s life. Anyway, I recall a funny exchange I had during the Television Critics Association event in Los Angeles last summer, when Parton and the cast were on hand to promote the TV movie.

The miniseries “The Bible,” which aired on the History Channel in 2013, broke ratings records for its network and proved able to compete ratings-wise with the AMC smash “The Walking Dead.” Meanwhile, the 2004 movie “The Passion of the Christ” became incredibly successful at the box office and the 2014 movie “Heaven Is For Real” performed well also. Mad Max will roar back out of the apocalypse while Mad Men rides off into the sunset, rock’s Antichrist Superstar and hip-hop’s Yeezus will rise again. But it did seem like suddenly we were in a different world, or at least a different era, as the room filled with what a believer would call positive energy and a cynic might call corniness.

The story hangs on the fact that the Parton children understand that the most private aspects of Mama’s and Daddy’s happiness are also what keep the household intact. And smaller faith-based movies like “War Room,” which came out this past August, have impressed industry watchers with their box office performance, which they achieve without name-recognition stars.

Dolly wears the coat to school, gets bullied because it is so gaudy, makes a new friend of an old enemy, and watches her parents battle over her father’s unwillingness to go to church. A fellow writer came up to me after the session and said, “This is a slice of Americana that you probably just won’t get, because you’re Canadian.” There’s something to that.

He dutifully drives his clan there every Sunday, so they can pray with Dolly’s preacher grandfather (Gerald McRaney), but he refuses to step inside. Throughout the movie, it’s understood that Lee’s grief and worries won’t pass until he accompanies his wife and children into the church headed by his father-in-law and truly receives the Word.

Themes involving Christianity, including the link between Dolly’s coat and the one given to Joseph by his father in the Bible, are front and center in Pamela K. There are eight kids in the Parton clan, with a ninth on the way, and Dolly’s parents – played by Jennifer Nettles and Ricky Schroder – have their hands full. If you think the movie is going to strike a psychological note and turn Dolly’s coat into a symbol of her adult love of the ornate, you’d be mistaken. In the Dolly Parton worldview, fire and brimstone serve merely as caricature traits of old-time religion; she’s far more concerned with how a decent upbringing can instill a welcoming heart. After all, it’s airing just one week after racists were taking to Twitter to disparage NBC’s superb staging of “The Wiz,” a live musical with an all-black cast.

But that hateful noise and nonsense doesn’t have much truck with the Parton belief system, nor does it reflect the enormous celebrity goodwill she engenders just by walking into a room. (If you’ve never seen Dolly Parton walk into a roomful of people, I highly recommend it. It would be similarly futile to apply outrage to the movie’s bleached whiteness, which, after all, is probably just reflecting the segregated reality of the retrograde world it portrays. Describing her dreams of becoming famous, little Dolly tells her mother: “If’n I can hold God’s attention, I can hold the world’s.” In her dolled-up, down-home way, Parton seems determined to teach her fans to love one another at least as much as they love her.

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