The Opening Night Film for the 2011 Indianapolis LGBT Film Festival, for which this critic has been a juror, Hollywood to Dollywood is a spirited, sweet, funny and affirmative feature documentary centering around the efforts of twins Larry and Gary Lane to get a copy of a script they wrote with a plum role written specifically for legendary country music superstar Dolly Parton into the hands of the legend herself.
Parton, who has long been embraced by the LGBTQ community for her outspoken acceptance of the community, figures heavily in the fabric of the film ranging from the 15-song soundtrack to the RV named Jolene, the title of one of Parton's more famous tunes, in which the Lane Brothers embark upon their journey alongside travel companion and the film's producer Mike Bowen.
If you're not familiar with Dolly Parton (Is that really possible?), she projects herself as a larger than life country music figure despite having a long-standing reputation for humility, friendliness and involvement in her community. What makes Hollywood to Dollywood such a delightful film is that it captures that Dolly spirit being lived out in the lives of these two brothers, who are from North Carolina but now live in Los Angeles and work in the film industry, and through Bowen, an Ohio native also currently living in L.A. and having worked in production design, art design and as the founder of the production design house 2DESIGN.
The trip begins appropriately enough at Dolly's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and weaves its way along U.S. 40 as Larry, Gary and Mike encounter everything from the Nashville floods to an Oklahoma twister and, perhaps most importantly, they use the time to come face-to-face with each other, their family backgrounds and the bigotry they've faced in their lives. Along the way, they'll encounter everyone from your common everyday folk to a few celebs whom they're hoping will help them find a way to actually get the script in Dolly's hands including folks like Leslie Jordan, Chad Allen, Beth Grant, Ann Walker and Dustin Lance Black (Academy Award-winning screenwriter of Milk and the current J. Edgar).
While the film is in many ways patterned after a certain journey from a certain gay-embraced film about a certain wizard in a certain land of Oz, Hollywood to Dollywood also shares a structure with recent road trip docs such as My Date With Drew, about one man's efforts to get a date with Drew Barrymore, and Looking for Ms. Locklear, about two men attempting to locate an elementary school teacher who they've come to realize has had a particularly powerful impact on their lives.
If you would weave all three of these films together, you'd likely end up with Hollywood to Dollywood, a film that is both intimate in the sense that it's clearly about the dreams of these young men and universal in that the Lane Brothers don't shy away from exploring their own issues resulting from growing up in areas where simply being homosexual was cause for bigotry, harassment and family rejection (While there's acknowledgement in the film that their mother cannot accept their being gay due to religious beliefs, they're also very quick to acknowledge having had good childhoods and an ongoing positive relationship with her). Despite the heaviness of this subject, it never weighs the film down mostly owing to the delightful screen presence that all three of these men project (though the camera does occasionally seem to be a bit too enamored with the admittedly handsome dudes).
One of the true joys of Hollywood to Dollywood is that it proves you can combine social commentary with genuine entertainment, with the guys sprinkling in significant social statements and events throughout the film quickly followed by a smile, a laugh, a heartfelt moment or all of the three.
Hollywood to Dollywood has proven to be wildly popular on the LGBT film festival circuit with appearances at OutFest to kick off its festival run back in July and at least a couple dozen festival appearances since that time. The film has picked up awards in at least eight of those festivals, and it seems destined for continued popularity on the festival and, if there's any justice at all, once it gets picked up for distribution.
RICHARD'S NOTE: Justice has been served. The film is available now on DVD through Breaking Glass Pictures. 10% of all sales benefit Dolly's Imagination Library!