With a title as awesome The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mum, this film has a lot to live up to, and thankfully it’s a pretty good and rather sweet movie. It’s also a fairly good example of what cinema is lacking because there are so few women directors, as when you get a movie like this, with a genuine female voice, you realise how rare it is and how lop-sided the movies generally are.
It’s 1976 and Elizabeth is on the verge of puberty. During a class assignment about how blood groups are hereditary, she realises that she cannot be her parents’ biological child. Understandably she’s a little upset and confused about this, and becomes gripped with the idea of find her ‘real’ mother. After thinking it over, she comes to the conclusion that perhaps Dolly Parton is her mum, due to the singer’s trailblazing ways and love of poetry.
She sets out on her bike from her Canadian home, planning to cross the border into the US and go to Minneapolis, where Dolly is playing a concert. Soon Elizabeth’s mother, Marion, is on her daughter’s trail, and the journey causes both of the women to revaluate who they are and their place in the world – all to the soundtrack of Dolly Parton.
Although it’s a little slow to start with, once it gets going The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mum is a charming, heartfelt movie that really does feel like it’s taking on the issues of being a woman in a way that’s not often heard. The issues themselves are relatively standard – such as burgeoning womanhood and a mother wondering who she is when she realises her child is becoming independent – but it does feel like they’re being looked at from a more genuine and realistic way. So often it’s men writing and directing movies about women, and films like this show that it would be great if more women were allowed to tell their own tales.
It doesn’t hurt either that the whole thing is set to a lot of Dolly Parton tunes, which isn’t just about having some great songs, but is woven into the plot and also part of the theme of the movie, with Dolly presented as someone who could be famous and a smart businessperson, while never compromising her womanhood, something that was relatively rare during the time the film is set. Dolly even contributes a voiceover towards the end (and the film also supports her wonderful initiative, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library).
Overall Verdict: A sweet, heartfelt, well-written movie, which may cover fairly standard themes, but manages to stay fresh thanks to a rare, genuine female voice and a great soundtrack.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac