SERIOUSLY RED (SXSW 2022)

March 23, 2022

SXSW 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Finding one’s self can be a long and arduous life journey for some. Along the way, they may be influenced by parents, friends, co-workers, and even public figures. This phenomenon is explored by director Gracie Otto (sister of Miranda) with a terrific script from lead actor Krew Boylan. It’s a film that starts out light-hearted and comical and evolves into something much deeper … self-actualization.

I’ll admit two things: I was not previously familiar with Krew Boylan and I was truly blown away by her performance here. She stars as Raylene, also known as the titular “Red” thanks to the ginger mop of hair on her head. She’s fixated on Dolly Parton to the point of going to the company banquet dressed as Dolly (either a prank or misunderstanding). Red has struggled to find her way in life, and is fired from her realtor job the day after the banquet due to her drunken improprieties. This is a grown woman living in her mom’s garage, and coincidences being as they are, a talent scout for a celebrity impersonation troupe offers Red the opportunity to audition as their Dolly.

We watch as she improves her act … going from a tolerable karaoke singer to actually impersonating Dolly’s singing voice, not just the big wig, heavy make-up, and frilly costumes (shout out to costume designer Tim Chappel). She becomes part of the Kenny Rogers impersonator’s act, and the two begin an off-stage relationship as well. Red finds that she enjoys the adulation and respect, and even goes so far to have implants for authenticity. Of course, we see what’s happening before Red does. In her search to find herself, she’s disappeared into the act of being someone else. Her lifelong friend asks her, “If you are busy being someone else, who is busy being you?”. Behold the identity crisis.

Exceptional work is provided by the supporting cast. That lifelong friend just mentioned is Francis, played by Thomas Campbell. We make assumptions about Francis based on the early scenes, and those assumptions later teach us a lesson. Red has a strained relationship with her mother played by Jean Kittson, who like every parent, wants happiness and reality for their offspring. Celeste Barber plays the talent scout who discovers Red, and Bobby Cannavale plays the manager of the traveling cast of impersonators (and serves up a nifty Neil Diamond impersonation himself). An unrecognizable Rose Byrne is a hoot as Elvis, and Daniel Webber is a standout as Kenny – the love interest and Kenny Rogers impersonator. Also fun to watch are the impersonators who play such icons as Marilyn, Streisand, Liz, Liza, etc.

Director Otto opens with a terrific and unconventional shot of Red in the bathtub while on a client call. It’s the perfect introduction to a character and story that leads us down many paths. We often hear that celebrities and public figures don’t consider themselves role models, but it’s indisputable that they have influence on many. Dolly Parton is a charming and talented and successful woman, and many of her insightful quotes are utilized here to inspire Red. But while icons may inspire some, it becomes clear that we all need the love and support of family and/or friends to discover our true self. This is a full Australian production, with the exception of Mr. Cannavale, who is an honorary Aussie due to his marriage to Rose Byrne. It’s a story with heart and makes for an entertaining watch.


THE LAST IMPRESARIO (2014, doc)

December 4, 2014

last impresario Greetings again from the darkness. In the biographical documentary genre, a stream of talking heads is ordinarily my least favorite approach. However, director Gracie Otto (sister of actress Miranda) understands that when your subject is “the most famous person you’ve never heard of”, it’s pretty impressive and effective to line-up 50+ celebrities to offer their thoughts and memories of the man.

Michael White. Maybe you know the name, maybe you don’t. Even before the opening credits, we get rapid-fire celebrity descriptions of Mr. White and his impact on theatre, film and the creative society of the 1960’s and 70’s. Director Otto explains how she first noticed Mr. White at the Cannes Film Festival as a slew of celebrities paid their respects. She then began her research into this most interesting man whose 50 year career has left quite a personal stamp.

We hear descriptions such as “he likes people” and he “likes being where the action is”. This about a man who grew up in Scotland, was educated in Switzerland, and worked in New York … before making a real mark in London’s West End Theatre district. His infamous dinner parties allowed paths to cross between the brightest in stage, art, film, and publishing. He had an eye for talent outside the mainstream – experimental and avant garde appealed to him … those who pushed the envelope (or ignored it completely). Because of this, his sphere of influence included such diverse personalities as Pina Bausch, Yoko Ono, John Waters and Kate Moss. His stage production of “Oh! Calcutta” was a major cultural breakthrough and led to others such as the original “Rocky Horror Show”, and the iconic comedy film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

When Ms. Otto asks him why he has so many friends, Mr. White replies that “you never lose a friend”. This comes after we have learned that powerful music producer Lou Adler took advantage of him during negotiations for the Rocky Horror rights in the U.S. White does acknowledge that he has been “cheated” a few times over the years. Another apt description is that he is “drawn to excitement more than money”. It’s then that we learn of his incredible archive of 30,000 photographs – from a time before the paparazzi ruled the world.

The odd font style makes some of the onscreen graphics difficult to read, but the music reminds us that Michael White’s legacy from the swinging 60’s as a playboy and gambling Producer is quite secure Today Mr. White lives a modest life, and periodically has to auction his collections to raise funds. He has had a couple of strokes, walks with the aid of two canes, and is sometimes difficult to understand. He still has regular dinners with friends … after all, with this attitude in life, one never loses a friend.

watch the trailer: