[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Dolly Parton is a national treasure. Full stop. I had the exceptional pleasure of tagging along to a press junket in college when she was doing the rounds for her romcom, Straight Talk. She was delightfully warm and funny, and it was a magical afternoon to sit at a table with her and just listen to her talk. My family’s adored her since before I was born, so I come by it naturally. My own intro was through her 80s comedies and her music. Related: Do NOT remake 9 to 5. Step off.
Parton is everywhere right now, which is as it should be. We need her light. Later tonight/Friday, Netflix drops Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings, an anthology of eight stories based on her music. Given the depth of her music library, I really, really hope we see more seasons of adaptations.
The two installments made available for screening are actually standalone mini-movies, and they’re particularly timely in their commentary about the relationships between women, even though they’re set 70 years apart. I will readily admit both made me tear up in the best, most cathartic way. Heartstrings, indeed.
First things first, these are genuine, unrelated standalone stories, and y’all know that I bristle at the co-opting of the phrase “anthology” to represent standalone seasons. That’s not what it means, people. These are the real deal. The only throughline is Parton introducing each story from her Dollywood with a little history on its origin. The stories are distinct. I love that.
“These Old Bones,” written by Jim Strain and directed by Joe Lazarov, runs almost 90 minutes and stars Kathleen Turner (also a treasure) in the titular role of a clairvoyant who lives outside of town in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. She becomes the linchpin in the court case of a lumber company that wants to buy that mountain’s residents out. Ginnifer Goodwin is the hometown girl, now a DC lawyer, who returns to fight the case on behalf of her client.
That goes nowhere near as planned when she’s pushed to out Bones as a charlatan, which she most definitely isn’t. Thankfully, Bones is represented by Landon (Kyle Bornheimer), a newly-arrived lawyer who strikes up a friendship with her after his young son trespasses on her property. And that’s about all you need to know.
The story builds around the case, and the quiet, fiery, funny, devout woman Bones reveals herself to be. Turner is really lovely in the role, and it’s nice to see Goodwin play all the conflicts Genevieve faces about trying to get ahead on her own merits in wartime when opportunities for women are a bit transient, until she accepts that there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed and other loyalties are more important.
Loyalty also has a place in “Jolene,” probably Parton’s most hummable song ever. It’s written by Patrick Sean Smith and directed by Andrew Fleming. Julianne Hough delivers a crackerjack performance as the episode’s namesake, a budding songstress and songwriter who’s kept herself just outside of Nashville for a host of reasons she’s not ready to unpack. Parton appears in the episode as Babe, who had a hand in raising Jolene and owns the bar where Jolene slings beer and sings.
Kimberly Williams-Paisley is Emily, a doctor’s wife desperate to be something more than the Junior League type she is, tasked with running a fall festival alongside other moneyed women who don’t necessarily mind that moniker. She winds up at Jolene’s bar in a Hail Mary attempt to try something new to liven up her now-staid marriage to Aaron (Dallas Roberts), but ends up alone for the night and Jolene bails her out of a jam.
The women hit it off and find common ground over Jolene’s music. Soon, Jolene is a regular, welcome presence among Emily’s family. Emily leans on her refreshingly frank new friend for counsel and gives her own advice, until she learns something that snaps her back to her rarified, judgy air. Then their newfound bond is tested in uncomfortable, ugly ways and it’s up to Babe to interject the voice of reason.
Hough has a great time with Jolene, revealing just a hint of vulnerability inside a woman who’s maybe not as confident as you might think. Williams-Paisley is so good as a woman who’s just been alone and lonely in the middle of a very comfortable life until Jolene sparks something in her and makes her question that complacency. Parton doesn’t act onscreen very often, but when she does it’s always a treat and she’s the one who brought me to tears during this episode.
The other six episodes will be a mix of genres, all scored by Parton, who also executive produces. Look for fantastic cast pairings, like Gerald McCraney and Delta Burke onscreen together for the first time since Designing Women, if I’m right, and a Thirtysomething reunion of the Westons with Patricia Wettig and Timothy Busfield, who also directs an episode. Other cast include Sarah Shahi, Goodwin’s fellow OUaT alumni Colin O’Donoghue, Scandal‘s Bellamy Young, and a gone-for-way-too-long Tammy Lynn Michaels.
Behind the scenes, the writers who adapted Parton’s music are just as interesting–Manhattan‘s Lisa Melamed, China Beach‘s John Sacret Young (one of my absolute favorites who’s also been gone too long), and husband-and-wife team Thomas Ian Griffith and Mary Page Keller, who also collaborated on Grimm.
Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings is available later tonight/Friday on Netflix. Here’s a sneak peek.
Photos and videos courtesy of Netflix.
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