Dolly Parton is wearing a red dress, sitting in front of a meticulously decorated Christmas tree, and ready to Zoom. It doesn’t matter that it’s mid-October at the time of this interview. It’s the holiday season as far as Dolly is concerned, and she’s ready to spread messages of hope and joy.
She’s promoting her newest project for Netflix—Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square, out November 22—about a wealthy and cold-hearted businesswoman (Christine Baranski) who returns to her small hometown to evict everyone and sell the land to a mall developer…right before Christmas.
Dolly plays a couple different roles in the Debbie Allen-directed musical, but Christmas on the Square isn’t your typical cookie-cutter holiday movie. Sure, there’s choreographed singing and dancing—including 14 original songs from Dolly—and everyone is perfectly coiffed for a run to the nearby general store, but it includes song lyrics about fertility treatments and eviction notices.
How’s that for a juxtaposition? I, for one, can’t remember the last time I saw a Christmas movie address such real-life situations. When I ask Parton about this, she immediately credits writer and co-executive producer Maria S. Schlatter with the idea to feature a couple struggling to conceive and putting the storyline front and center. “Maria addressed so many wonderful things with these characters,” Parton tells Glamour. “I was just so proud to write the music that would support all of that and go along with such wonderful stories.”
Granted, it’s not like we see said couple go to their doctor appointments and administer IVF shots at home. (I still want to see that.) But their journey—and eventual decision to surrender what’s meant to be to a higher power—is interesting to watch.
Traditionally, Christmas movies aim to transport you to a simpler time. But it’s 2020 and, frankly, we’re a bit jaded. We want escapism, but with a side of realism. Christine Baranski says the movie succeeds because it doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff. “
There’s a wonderful line in the film, ‘Grief is love with nowhere to go,’ as well as, ‘When you’re numb to the feelings of others, it’s easy to damage someone,'” she says. “People need to soften their hearts, especially now. We are living in an age where it’s easy to let anger out towards other people. But we have to be careful not to go numb…and spread simple kindness on the smallest level. We just have to keep the faith.”
Just like the fictional characters in this small town trying to make ends meet. “People are hoping for a better new year,” Parton says, “So if they can find joy in this movie and it gives them hope, then we’ve done our job.”
Jessica Radloff is the Glamour West Coast editor. You can follow her on Instagram at @jessicaradloff14.