'Dolly Parton Was My Mom' fun to watch

LIZ BRAUN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:37 PM ET

The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom is a coming-of-age story for a couple of characters and a whole generation of women.

The story is set in 1976 on the Canadian Prairies near the U.S. border. It centres on Elizabeth, a girl of 11 or 12 who inhabits that particular no-man's-land (you should pardon the expression) between childhood and adult life. She waits patiently for puberty, comparing notes with her girlfriends and discussing the ups and downs of breast development. Do large breasts really skip a generation? It's all moot for Elizabeth, who is physically still a child.

Elizabeth (newcomer Julia Stone) admires her friend's mother, Stella (Rebecca Croll) because Stella has a job and goes to feminist rallies. Stella loves Dolly Parton and calls her a real trailblazer, and Elizabeth loves Dolly Parton too.

Elizabeth's mom, Marion (Macha Grenon) is a little more buttoned-down than Stella. She's a stay-at-home mom and seems vaguely uncomfortable in her own skin.

One day at school, Elizabeth makes a discovery that completely changes her view of everything. Her world is turned upside down. She comes to believe Dolly Parton is her real mother, based on such evidence as a butterfly birth mark and other sure 'signs' and she decides to run away from home to meet Parton. As luck would have it, the singer is performing in Minneapolis.

Elizabeth decides to ride her bike to the concert. She arranges to leave the house in a way that will keep her whereabouts a secret for hours.

What follows is a child riding along endless roads in an endless landscape, flying her bike mile after mile past big, open, unmarked fields as far as the eye can see.

And pursuing her in the family car is her distraught mother. Marion is terrified for her missing Elizabeth and she's not entirely sure where she's going -- either to find Elizabeth, or to find herself. Marriage and motherhood have become uncharted territory in this time of burgeoning feminism, and Marion is no longer confident about what's she's doing in life, or why.

The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom is a wonderfully low-key but engaging movie about identity. The story (from writer/director Tara Johns) is brought to life with three-dimensional characters; the understated performances are terrific, particularly that from Julia Stone, an adolescent actress making her feature debut here. We can look forward to whatever she does next.

(This film is rated PG)


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