A resounding success

Locally-shot unconventional road film is both witty and genuine

Newcomer Julia Sarah Stone stars in The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom, a new film about a young girl who goes in search of her biological mother. Mongrel Media

The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom is a near flawless film, and quite possibly the best locally produced film in the last decade — and I’m not just saying that because it was shot here.

The debut feature from Montreal’s Tara Johns was shot partly in Quebec and Manitoba and was co-produced by Winnipeg’s own Buffalo Gal Pictures.

The story is that of two women in a 1976 prairie town: Marion (Macha Grenon), who has a hard time adapting to the forward-thinking world of dishwashers and electric clock radios; and her 11-year-old daughter Elizabeth (newcomer Julia Sarah Stone), who is anxiously awaiting the arrival of her period.

Both are forced to face reality when Elizabeth accidentally discovers that she is adopted and goes in search of her birth mother who, for various naive reasons, she believes to be Dolly Parton.

What follows is an unconventional road film that genuinely tackles the hardships of being a teenage girl in ways that other recent films have only been able to gloss over. 

Not since the days of Degrassi Junior High has anything felt as real or downright genuine, as though one is watching the events unfold firsthand.

Comparable to such features as Scott Smith’s Falling Angels and Bruce McDonald’s The Tracey Fragments, this film has more than a woman’s touch, with 165 females listed on the crew.

The style of the film is noticeably subtle: a camera that peers up (putting the audience on the same level as our young heroine) and a hushed, vintage look that recall’s McDonald’s The Love Crimes of Gillian Guess.

The simplicity of the storytelling is complimented by the incredibly appropriate music of Miss Parton, whose delicate yet powerful songs provide a welcome drive to the film (and yes, all the hits, from Jolene to I Will Always Love You are present).

Additionally, the dialogue is both witty and genuine, making the film accessible and enjoyable on many levels.

As a period film, a Canadian film and simply a film about hardships of growing up, The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom is a resounding success.

Published in Volume 65, Number 26 of The Uniter (June 2, 2011)

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