The cinematic representation of fans and fandoms has always been largely negative in nature. Films like “Misery (1990)”, “The King of Comedy (1982)”, “The Fan (1996)”, and “Fan (2016)” have delved into the darker side of obsession and presented the fans in question as people who have gone too far off the deep end and are beyond redemption. And that’s alright, in a sense, because that kind of madness does need to be questioned and, more importantly, stopped. But there’s a bright side to fandoms that we don’t get to see, which are populated by people whose love for their stars isn’t that toxic. “Murabba” from “Bombay Talkies (2013)” and the topic of today’s review, “Seriously Red (2022)”, are some rare positive examples of this.
Directed by Gracie Otto and written by Krew Boylan, “Seriously Red” tells the story of Red (Krew Boylan), who is such a big fan of Dolly Parton that she goes to an office party dressed as her after a miscommunication with her friend Francis (Thomas Campbell). But despite becoming the butt of the joke, she channels Dolly and impresses the hell out of everyone. The next day, she is fired because she drank too much alcohol to celebrate her successful impersonation and then sexually harassed a bunch of employees. That doesn’t disturb her, as she sees it as a sign to seek liberation by becoming a professional Dolly Parton impersonator. She moves out of her mother Viv’s (Jean Kittson) garage to do gigs all over the world. She even marries a Kenny Rogers impersonator (Daniel Webber) and truly commits to the act. However, in the process of being Dolly Parton, she realizes that she’s losing herself.
One of the biggest merits of Otto’s direction and Boylan’s writing in “Seriously Red” is how it focuses on the reasoning behind obsessively following a star, but in a non-condescending way. Even if you miss all the details in the visual storytelling and the nuances of Boylan’s impeccable performance, there are two lines in the third act of “Seriously Red” that sum up the movie’s intent. The first one is where Francis tells Red, “If you’re busy being someone else, who is busy being you?” And the second one is where Red’s manager and guru-of-sorts Wilson (Bobby Cannavale) says, “The more unique you are as a person, the harder it is to be someone else.” With these two lines, Otto and Boylan empathize with a fan’s insecurities about not being as perfect as their idols and thereby modeling themselves after said idols to hide their imperfections. Simultaneously, they say that it’s okay to be imperfect and idolize a star, but it’s better if they incorporate the essence of their star’s teachings into their lives.
The production design by Penny Southgate, the art direction by Karen Ballantyne and Matt Crocker, the editing by Kate Hickey and Deborah Peart, and the cinematography by Toby Oliver are simply fantastic. The houses in which Red lives have a very overlit, soap opera-esque feel to them because neither she nor the people who own them are living sincerely. All of them are overcompensating or trying to hide a part of their identity, and it’s a very intelligent way of showing that without relying on exposition. On the flip side, the places where Red goes to perform are visually more inviting and are sometimes very dreamlike. Of course, when the characters (Red, to be specific) become more honest with themselves, the aesthetic is swapped. But until then, Otto does a brilliant job of putting the subtext on-screen. Also, since a huge chunk of “Seriously Red” has the characters wearing costumes and not regular clothes, major props to costume designer Tim Chappel for nailing the distinct looks of each of the impersonators.
Talking about “looks,” Rose Byrne as an Elvis Presley impersonator is unrecognizable. Especially if (like me) you don’t know that Rose Byrne is in “Seriously Red” as an Elvis Presley impersonator. When her character is introduced, it seems like the purpose is not to give away that it’s Byrne. And even when the movie wants to let you know that that’s Byrne, everything from her performance, her vocal inflections, and her makeup (it’s some award-winning makeup design) prevents you from recognizing her. But the real star of the show is, of course, Krew Boylan, who knocks it out of the park with her subtle, heartbreaking, and hilarious portrayal of Red. As mentioned before, there are many layers to the deconstruction of the fan, and Boylan hits every single mark while going through them. She effortlessly embodies the journey of Red, from a dazed fangirl to an icon in her own right, and deserves all the applause for it.
As for the supporting cast, there’s a fat chance that Daniel Webber is going to fly under the radar, but he deserves an equal amount of applause for his performance as a Kenny Rogers impersonator. Celeste Barber and Bobby Cannavale as the two halves of Red’s professional brain and Thomas Campbell and Jean Kittson as the two halves of Red’s personal brain are, for lack of a better word, awesome. Their chemistry with Boylan feels very organic and tangible. Individually, they are splendid as well. I am a sucker for mothers recognizing their kids’ growth, and Kittson (and Boylan) nearly brought me to tears during her moment of acknowledgment. And Cannavale’s brief stage performance is so good that it’ll have you begging for a spin-off of his character. And not just because he looks and sounds cool. But because he has undergone a similar transformation in terms of understanding the difference between obsessing over a star and learning from them, and then built a whole industry around impersonators.
In conclusion, “Seriously Red” is the kind of movie we should be getting instead of bland biopics. Celebrities like Dolly Parton have lived very public lives. So, most of their details are out there and can be accessed with a simple Google search. It’s pointless to revisit them via expensive sets, uninspired casting, and unimaginative storytelling. But movies like “Seriously Red” explore how they changed the world with their stardom, what are the things that they inspired people to do, and how much of it was intentional, and how much of it was unintentional. That retains the mysticism of the star and pays tribute to the one community that helps them thrive and gets demonized because of a vocal minority: fans! That’s a roundabout way of saying that “Seriously Red” is a must-watch.
“Seriously Red” is a 2022 drama film directed by Gracie Otto and written by Krew Boylan. The film was screened at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.