Everything Dolly touches seems to turn to gold, and Dolly Parton's Christmas on the Square is no different. There's a scene where Baranski's Regina looks down her patrician nose at Angel Dolly's rhinestone-encrusted platform boots and utters, "tacky." It's hilarious and telling at once: a comment on the coastal elite's view of "Middle" America (and maybe Dolly herself), city vs town, cosmopolitan vs country. True enough, if you can't take the shiny surface -- the genre-hopping musical numbers, jazz-hand dancing, small-town sweetness and Christian messages -- then this movie could be a tough watch for you.
If you can look beyond the rhinestones, the film has a much deeper and harder-edged story than the intentionally old-fashioned, It's a Wonderful Life-inspired packaging would suggest. The film is at turns sad, funny, silly, and inspiring, just like Dolly's tell-it-as-it-is song lyrics often are. (A benefit of this being a Netflix film is the possibility to play it with subtitles and read all the lyrics.) There are angels perched on clouds and prancing pastors and postmen, but there are also teen pregnancies, forced adoptions, lost loves, dead parents, fertility treatments, hospitalized children, and dire medical diagnoses. An especially moving scene has the world-weary and bitter Regina bond with a wise-beyond-her-years little girl who helps tend her daddy's bar. The two sing "life is not a fairy tale," a lyric that could easily serve as the film's tagline.