Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: A woman returns to her home town in the run-up to Christmas and causes uproar when she tells all the proprietors of the shops in the town square, that they must all leave by Christmas Eve, as she has sold the land to a developer. A couple of angels, one that is still in training, hope to help her see the error of her ways. 

Is it any good?: How much you enjoy this film will depend a lot on whether you like musicals or not. The story is a mix of inspirations from two other classic stories – A Christmas Carol mostly, with a pinch of It’s A Wonderful Life. That being said, Christmas On The Square is a nice festive film that tugs on the heartstrings a little and is just a pleasant film to watch over the festive period. 

Spoiler territory: in the town square, all of the town’s people are looking forward to Christmas and various activities are going on. A choir is preparing to carol sing, shoppers are looking for gifts and families enjoy the festive decorations. A woman appears in the square. She holds a cardboard box, begging for change. 

Driven by her assistant, Felicity (Jeanine Mason), Regina Fuller (Christine Baranski) arrives in the square. She has business to attend to and does not want to be in town for long. She is bringing eviction notices for the many proprietors in the square. She goes and sees the town’s pastor, Christian Hathaway (Josh Segarra), first. 

Christian greets her, remarking how he has not seen her since her father’s funeral six months earlier. Christian’s wife, Jenna (Mary Lane Haskell), notes how everybody misses her father.

Regina gets down to business. She is there to inform them that the town, her land, is being sold to the Cheetah Mall conglomerate. It is to become the biggest mall in America. 

The pastor cannot believe that she is giving out the eviction notices less than a week before Christmas. Regina goes to see her oldest friend in town next, hairdresser Margeline (Jenifer Lewis). She gives her an eviction notice. 

Margeline asks her what is going on. Regina tells her, that as she inherited the land that the town stands on, Fullerville, the town, has to go because she has sold the land. 

Christian calls a town meeting. He plans to fight Regina’s eviction notices. Regina gets a call from her doctor but ignores it. Margeline comes to her house to do her hair. 

Regina mentions that she has one more eviction notice to deliver and then she will leave town. It is for Carl (Treat Williams), her childhood sweetheart, whose heart she broke. 

Margeline tries to talk to her friend about the eviction notices but Regina refuses to be moved by sentiment. A frustrated Margeline leaves Regina. 

She sees another message on her phone from doctor Marshall (Donald Corren). Call him. Regina goes into town, she is confronted by pastor Christian. He tells her the whole town is going to stand against her. 

Regina remains unmoved. She goes and sees Carl. She tells him to sign the eviction papers. He asks her why did she did not return his calls or any of his letters. He is still hurt even after all these years.

Regina tells him that people change. She notices a street lamp. She asks if it was a father’s, Carl tells it was. He picked up all lot of his old stuff after his death. 

He tells her it gave him an excuse to visit her old home and hear how she was doing. She was doing very well, a big deal in business. Regina brings the conversation back to the eviction notice. He tells her he is not going to sign. Regina leaves the store. 

She returns to her car and the beggar from the square appears. Regina gives her short shrift and drives off. A pamphlet flies into her face and she brakes as she is about to hit doctor Marshall. He tells her they need to talk, he found a shadow on her brain scan. 

Regina returns home and Felicity tells her the contract from Cheetah has arrived. After dismissing Felicity, Regina takes the contract to her bedroom. She goes to switch a lamp on and it does not work. 

None of the lights work. She calls Felicity. The beggar from the square appears and tells her that Felicity has left for the night. 

The beggar tells her she is an angel and her name is Angel (Dolly Parton). Angel reminds Regina of how her father used to look out of the window and watch lamps light up the square. She also tells her that he had hoped that she would find happiness. Angel disappears. 

In the church, the town is meeting and venting about Regina. They are trying to come up with ideas to stop her plan. No one has anything sensible or useful to contribute. 

Regina turns up at the meeting. She tells the assembled that she has been supporting the town ever since her father fell ill some years before. 

She says that she sold businesses and unused spaces. The townspeople point out that the spaces she speaks of were parks. She reiterates that she will be selling the land. 

She tells them that the new deadline for them to vacate is Christmas Eve. An incredulous Christian notes that that is the next day. Regina leaves the meeting. 

She goes into a bar across the road. She meets Violet (Selah Kimbro Jones), a young girl who is running the establishment whilst her father is at the meeting. Violet tells Regina that her mother died when she was younger. Regina’s mother also died when she was young.

Not knowing that she is talking about her, Violet tells Regina that her father hates the ‘wicked witch of the middle’ because he holds her responsible for her mother’s death.

She tells Regina that when she was very small, she got a fever and her mother had to drive twenty miles to get medicine. She died in a storm on the return drive. 

Violet does not blame the wicked witch of the middle. She thinks it is her own fault for getting sick. Regina tells her that is wrong. Before she can say anything else, Violet’s father, Mack (Matthew Johnson), returns.

A shaken Regina leaves the bar. Back at home, Regina remembers her father, Jack (Douglas Sills), polishing the lamp and telling her as a young girl, that she will be the one looking after the town one day. 

The next morning, Felicity is surprised by Angel. She wants to know why she has not woken Regina up for her doctor’s appointment. Angel-in-training Felicity is reluctant to engage with Regina. 

Angel tells Felicity to go and wake her. Felicity wakes Regina up and receives sarcasm and obtuseness for her troubles. 

Sent to get coffee, Felicity tells Angel she wants to quit. Regina is too mean and rude. Angel will not let her, insisting that she finds the good qualities in Regina. Regina shouts for her coffee. 

Felicity meets her with a cup of coffee and Regina gives her a grudging apology for being so brusque. On the drive to the doctor’s, Felicity remarks that being back brought must bring back memories.

Regina remembers going to her (teenage Regina – Hailey Rose Walsh) first and only high school dance, eager to meet up with Carl (teenage Carl – Andrew Brodeur). She saw him giving a ring to another girl and was so hurt she went off with another boy (Aidan Dacy Carberry). She went home with him and he got her pregnant. 

When her father found out, he sent her away and took the baby away, giving it up for adoption. Angel shows her that he only took the baby to save her from the judgement of the townspeople and that Carl had meant to give the ring to her. 

As Regina is leaving the hospital, an ambulance is coming and she sees a fraught Mack. Violet has been a car accident. Regina tells Felicity to find the top paediatric doctor in the country and get them to that hospital. 

Regina prays to god to save Violet. In the hospital with his daughter, Mack is also praying. A paediatric doctor, Martinez (Yvonne Valadez) comes into the room. She has flown from one hundred miles away to help his daughter. 

Regina tells Felicity to drop her at Carl’s store. Angel tells Felicity that it is not a good idea and that Regina is not ready. Felicity disagrees and takes her to the store. 

Regina goes into the store and tries to talk with Carl but he is not very receptive, stopping her before she can finish speaking. She asks him how much he wants for the lantern. He gives it to her as a gift. 

Regina returns home. An excited Felicity asks how it went with Carl. Regina expression and demeanour tell her it did not go well. Around the square, the store owners are packing up, preparing to vacate their premises. A little magic from Angel wakes Violet from unconsciousness. 

Whilst fiddling with the lamp, Regina finds an old bible hidden in the base of the lamp. She reads a note her father had written in the book that tells what happened to her son.

Christian tells his wife that Mack called to tell him that Violet has woken up. Regina runs into doctor Marshall again. He tells her that her test results are fine and the first test was an aberration. 

Regina goes to see Christian. She shows him the lamp and tells him that it contains the family bible; their family bible. She shows him the note her father, his grandfather, wrote. 

Christian goes to the church to deliver the Christmas sermon. He tells the town that Violet woke up. He tells them that he always felt as if Jack Fuller was watching over him. 

He tells Regina story of having to leave the town and give up her baby for adoption. He was that baby and Regina is his mother. Regina comes to the front of the church and tells them that she is not selling the town. 

The town throws a Christmas party. Carl comes and dances with Regina. The angels, Angel and Felicity, tell everyone to light their light. The end. 

Final thoughts: Dolly Parton’s Christmas On The Square is a nice festive film. The songs are good without being particularly memorable and the dance sequences are energetic and joyful.

From a stage play by Dolly Parton and Maria S Schlatter and directed by Debbie Allen, the production shows its stage roots mostly in the songs.

Allen’s direction shows all of her experience, with her having almost as many credits for directing as she does for acting, with fluid camerawork and direction helping to make the dance sequences look a little less stagey. 

Christmas On The Square is not a festive classic but it does manage to tick many of the Christmas story boxes, imparting the message of goodwill to all and happiness through love and selfless deeds.

Baranski is perfectly cast as the cold and aloof Regina and works well as the central focus, pulling the film along. 

As I alluded to at the beginning, there is a nod to the classic It’s A Wonderful Life, with the effervescent Mason taking up the Clarence role, something that is cleverly referenced in the script. 

Christmas On The Square is a simple story and throws up no surprises. Parton’s homely approach is evident throughout and it is just a fun ninety-eight-minute watch.