Starring Julia Stone, Macha Grenon, and Gil Bellows. Rated G. Opens Friday, April 8, at the International Village Cinemas
Newcomer Julia Stone (from Vancouver) is remarkable as Elizabeth, a thoughtful 11-year-old in an unnamed Manitoba border town in The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom. It is, apparently, 1976; time and place are a bit blurry, although that may be the haze of retrospection. Elizabeth is living for the moment when she’ll “get it”—meaning her period—but a middle-school biology class soon leads to a different development: her parents might not be the real thing.
Watch the trailer for The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom.
When confronted, her helmet-haired mom (Macha Grenon) flips out, while golf-minded dad (former Vancouverite Gil Bellows) admits the girl was adopted, almost at birth. These tightlipped middle classers really don’t know where she came from, and Elizabeth seems to get more solace from the bra-burning activist (Rebecca Croll) and her daughter (Rebecca Windheim) across the street. These two listen to a lot of Dolly Parton, which may be why our pint-sized heroine fixates on the singer-songwriter as her personal Earth mama. In short order, she decides to meet Dolly at an upcoming concert in Minneapolis.
Like The Bend, also playing now, this lovingly crafted effort was written and directed by an Anglo-Canadian currently living in Montreal, this time the talented (and also former Vancouverite) Tara Johns. Similarly, scenes are divided between interiors shot in Quebec and wide-vista exteriors captured where the tale is set. The mix of actors from different backgrounds doesn’t kill the nostalgic verisimilitude, exactly, but Grenon is notably stiff as the mom who gives chase when daughter dear dolls up and heads for the border by bike. The bigger problem is that few scenes with adults are as well written or imaginatively staged as the ones inhabited solely by children. The music is great, though, and Ms. Parton lends her voice to the proceedings in several crucial ways. So ain’t that somethin’?