lingering questions

Every Question I Had While Watching Dolly Parton’s Netflix Movie, Christmas on the Square

Dolly, thank you for this holiday gift. Photo: COURTESY OF NETFLIX

As part of her continuing campaign to single-handedly rescue the holidays this season, Dolly Parton has brought us so much: new music, funding for a COVID vaccine, and most importantly, a Netflix Christmas musical movie where she plays an actual angel. Christmas on the Square is simultaneously an entirely predictable Christmas Carol riff about a rich woman (Christine Baranski) learning to embrace the spirit of the holidays, and one of the more bonkers things I have ever seen, including a wild backstory for Christine’s character and the suggestion that America’s dad, Treat Williams, could survive off a store that mostly sells novelty lamps. As I tried to keep up with the many twists, turns, and leaps the movie took as it progressed, I did my best to keep up with it all, and have been left with a series of increasingly baffled questions about what I experienced. Below, my best attempts to reckon with it all.

Who decided to edit Dolly into this opening number as if she is surrounded by the soft haze of an Instagram filter? Was she actually ever on this set? For that matter, what’s with her elementary-school, Tiny Tim–esque costume as a beggar woman? Does Dolly just have a costume rack of basic character tropes somewhere in case she wants to have a little fun?

Did Debbie Allen agree to direct this movie just to insist on having lots of choreography? The choreography is mostly high kicks and light twirling, but I will take it.

Are we meant to assume that Christine Baranski is evil simply because she marches into the movie in sunglasses and red gloves?

Yes, clearly. Photo: Netflix

How many people watching Josh Segarra play a minister in this have also seen him play a confused dude-bro in The Other Two? Probably very few, but you should all go watch The Other Two. Can we agree that Josh Segarra as a hot minister singing about how he loves his wife is Fleabag-core?

Who wrote Christine’s spoken-word lines, specifically the rhyme of jurisdiction-eviction-friction? I have notes.

How did Jennifer Lewis’s character, named Marjoline, get a job running a salon with two gay men whose primary jobs are to twirl behind her? Also, can I get a job as one of those gay men?

Of course Christine has memories of making out with some guy as a kid, so we can assume that will obviously be her long-lost love, Treat Williams?

The scene where Christine Baranski celebrates her evil plot to evict the whole town right before Christmas while wearing a towel turban in her widow’s walk is definitely a reference to the fact that Christine Baranski was also in The Grinch, right?

Why is Jennifer Lewis still willing to do Christine’s hair even after Christine decides to evict the whole town?

Oh wait, Jennifer Lewis is actually using this makeover montage to passive-aggressively chide Christine for being a terrible landlord, carry on. Photo: Netflix

I assume Treat Williams agreed to do this movie because the town of Christmas on the Square is similar to Everwood and he feels at home in fictional winter towns?

Should all movies just have a scene where Treat Williams sings sadly about his little lamp store? Obviously yes.

I assume Dolly Parton’s ability to float around on a cloud whenever she so chooses is a wholly accurate depiction of her powers in real life?

Sure. Photo: Netflix

Wait now suddenly this movie is a realist drama where Christine Baranski’s brain tumor might be causing all these explanations? Dancer in the Dark wishes.

“I hope if I have another hallucination it won’t be wearing rhinestones” — Christine, how dare you?

Is Josh Segarra taking off a coat to reveal that he’s wearing a slightly unzipped quarter-zip as sexual as this movie will ever get? (Obviously yes.)

Does the fact that this movie includes a song where everyone calls Christine Baranski “the witch of the middle” (“the middle” being Middle America) qualify it as pro-housing rights? Or does the fact that the people keep saying they are afraid of overpriced coffee and movie theaters that sell sushi mean it is simply regurgitating right-wing populist talking points? Or is Dolly trying to blend the two to offer a new form of politics? I’m willing to read a dissertation on this subject.

Was the wisecracking child bartender who offers Christine life advice at a crucial moment added into this movie because it wasn’t cutesy enough already? And was the fact that Christine closed the drug store that made it so the little girl’s mother died on a trip to get medicine added in to make the stakes even higher?

??? Photo: Netflix

Wait, Christine Baranski’s assistant, Jeanine Mason, is an angel-in-training, and Dolly is lecturing her from a whole giant angel rulebook? Incredible second-act twist.

When Jeanine Mason says “I quit!” and then Dolly goes “if you quit you’re no better than she is,” doesn’t this feel like a false equivalency? Jeanine Mason hasn’t evicted anyone!

Having Dolly sing “looking at life in the rearview mirror” while Christine Baranski looks out the window of her car and flashes back to her earlier life? Incredible filmmaking at work.

Christine Baranski says that her incredibly strict father only let her go to a school dance as a kid “because it was a Christmas dance.” What the hell is a Christmas dance? Is this like the Harry Potter Yule Ball?

Young Treat Williams gave another girl a ring in the coatroom! What kind of euphemism is this?

Christine did one dance with a suspicious, very ’70s guy at the Christmas dance and then got pregnant? She had to give away her baby? Seems way too moralistic for me!

Christmas! On! The! Square! Photo: Netflix

To whom can I direct a complaint saying that Christine’s ballad about how she’s decided to change is lovely but it was way too short and deserved a bridge?

Okay the dad singing to his child in the hospital is maybe too intense for this movie to handle? We’ve veered into heavy territory here.

Dolly is now appearing within Christine’s cup-holder — how much green-screen work did she do for this movie?

Can Dolly get away with singing what I believe is the 59th slow song in a row, simply because she’s giving good lilt and singing about how angels know how to help people? Yes.

Is any excuse to give Jennifer Lewis a whole gospel number a good excuse? Also yes.

Is Christine Baranski shouting “This isn’t my brain tumor, I’m just in a hurry!” the funniest this movie has been?

Still yes! Photo: Tina Rowden/Netflix

Was anyone on Earth surprised at the reveal that the child Christine gave away was of course Josh Segarra? Or that Christine’s brain tumor was magically healed?

It feels like these townspeople all forgive Christine Baranski too quickly? She was trying to evict them! Though maybe I would forgive Christine Baranski extremely quickly just for being Christine Baranski. Never mind, carry on.

Are we totally satisfied with Christine’s plan to “keep the rents low and the spirits high” in terms of the long-term fate of this town? On a moral level, I hope so! In a larger sense, what’re the economics of keeping a small Christmas square going through the warmer months? Can Christine and Josh Segarra work together on some ideas for new revenue streams?

Dolly ends the movie by talking directly to the camera telling everyone to “get out there, light your light” — an homage to Judi Dench in Cats? I can only hope.

Goodnight! Photo: Netflix
Every Question I Have After Watching Christmas on the Square