Red is a mess. She lives in the garage behind her mother’s house and goes inside every day for meals. She’s never snipped the apron strings. She is a serial job-loser. Something always seems to go wrong. She’s “quirky,” but it’s quirkiness with an edge. When she drinks too much, she goes bananas. In fact, this is how she loses her latest job. At a company party, dressed up like Dolly Parton, complete with a blonde wig and a skin-tight orange jumpsuit, she got wasted and lurched around the dance floor, grabbing her male co-workers’ crotches. Apparently, this will not fly in a corporate environment, and Red is sent packing. She tries to cheer up by murmuring quotes from Dolly in a mantra, attempting to wiggle into self-worth, dignity, and optimism. How does Dolly do it? Is it a fake it til you make it kind of thing? Or is Dolly’s philosophy the real deal? What would it be like to actually BE Dolly? It’s not just the fame and fortune part Red finds appealing. Dolly’s outlook is the real magic.
Down on her luck, Red signs up for an open-mic audition for Dolly impersonators at a local gay club. She’s surrounded by drag queen Dollys. She doesn’t know what she’s doing, and her nerves get the better of her. The gulf between her love of Dolly and her ability to be Dolly, or, rather, be like Dolly, is vast, and she feels the vast abyss in front of the crowd. She finds her sea legs only when she starts bantering with the audience, stringing together Dolly quotes. She comes alive as Dolly, and she catches a whiff of the “real thing.” You can see the transformation take place. So can Teeth (Celeste Barber), a woman in the crowd, who also just happens to manage a famous Kenny Rogers imitator. “Kenny” is looking for a “Dolly” to go on tour with him. Maybe this nervous woman with a bright smile will do the trick! (Speaking of Celeste Barber, her delirious Instagram feed helped me get through the 2020 lockdown.)
Red’s social life is small. Francis (Thomas Campbell), her best friend from childhood, is still her best friend. He comes over for dinner every day. They bicker like siblings. He supports her in her love of Dolly, and goofs around wearing Dolly wigs. One night, Red hooks up with an Elvis impersonator (Rose Byrne, hilarious). This has repercussions later in the film, particularly when it comes to Red’s impulsive decision to get breast implants. The psychological deterioration of the Elvis impersonator throughout the film, from top dog headliner to sulky lush at the bar, watching Red surpass him in success, is one of the jokes embedded in the film. But in general, Red doesn’t have a lot going for her. And so being plucked out of her chaotic little life into the celebrity imitator circuit is heady stuff.