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The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom

From Montreal filmmaker Tara Johns

Tara Johns must have known she was onto something when she decided to call her first feature The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom. Nostalgic, innocent, funny, touching – the Montreal filmmaker’s debut is all of these things, and more. It’s the story of Elizabeth (the quietly radiant Julia Stone), a geeky 11-year-old girl from the Prairies who is waiting desperately for puberty to strike when she finds out her family isn’t exactly what she thought it was. Poster art for The Year Dolly Parton Was My MomSo Elizabeth does what any self-respecting, disillusioned preteen would do. After deciding that Dolly Parton must be her real mother, she gets all gussied up, boards her banana-seat bike and sets out in pursuit of the truth – and a fantasy – leaving her befuddled, perfect-housewife mom Marion (Macha Grenon) to scramble after her. What begins as a quaint, domestic coming-of-age tale turns into a moving mom/daughter road movie in which each has things to learn about the other, and herself. Larry Spittle and Marianne Carter have a blast with the art direction and costume design, respectively, digging up an amusing array of gaudy wallpaper, retro props and patterned outfits to transport us back to 1976. It’s all a set-up for cinematographer Claudine Sauvé’s big blue skies once Elizabeth finally hits the open road. The dreamy expanse is a perfect backdrop for our determined protagonist, who cycles down empty highways in her ridiculously frilly outfit, headed in the general direction of what she hopes is the nearest Dolly Parton concert. When Marion finally tracks her down, mother and daughter come together on a joint journey into the unknown – and Johns’s movie becomes bigger than the sum of its parts. There’s a distinctly Canadian feel that works to the film’s benefit. It’s not an action-packed Hollywood adventure, but something quieter, more intuitive and open-ended. That space allows us to feel Marion’s evolution from control freak to liberated woman and Elizabeth’s from childhood yearning to adolescent self-possession. In the process, we feel the walls between them come down, and their bond deepen. It’s all set to the tunes of Dolly Parton, sung by some notable Canadian songbirds including Martha Wainwright, Coral Egan and Nelly Furtado. By the time Parton contributes her voice in a film-ending, off-screen cameo, we’ve been taken on a ride. And as with any good trip, we return feeling lighter. – T’cha Dunlevy, The Montreal Gazette Official Trailer
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Directed by: 
Tara Johns
Running Time: 
Julia Stone, Macha Grenon, Gil Bellows
Screenplay by: 
Tara Johns

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