Dolly Parton: Here I Am (2019): 6 out of 10: The world does not suffer a shortage of Dolly Parton documentaries. Dolly is having a moment in 2022 and honestly has been having a moment the last few years. Finding someone decent with a good heart seems to be just the life raft we need when each celebrity seems more awful than the last.
The Good: Dolly Parton: Here I Am is an hour and a half of Dolly Parton singing and talking. How can it not be good? While there is certainly plenty of retread of well-worn tales (This is hardly fresh territory) Dolly Parton: Here I Am does an admirable job covering her time with The Porter Wagoner Show. It also does a decent deep dive into some of her earlier hits, such as Jolene. In fact, the movie does an excellent job up until the late 70s.
Jane Fonda also shines in the documentary as the most erudite and informative interviewee, with some proper tales out of school about Dolly and her home life.
The Bad: After the late seventies, the Dolly story is truly hit and miss. Dolly Parton: Here I Am would have been better off focusing on The Porter Wagoner Show and her early solo career because it makes a dog’s breakfast out of most of the rest. 9 to 5 and 1999’s bluegrass album The Grass Is Blue get lots of coverage (Deserved in 9 to 5’s case).
The Grass is Blue seems to get so much coverage simply because the filmmakers had access to her studio musicians for interviews and some footage. The album itself is nice enough with some very good songs, but it peaked at No. 198 on the US Billboard 200 and the European tour was canceled midway through due to attendance issues. Not exactly something you put in a career highlight film.
Speaking of interviews, Kylie Minogue is interviewed extensively in the film. Outside of enjoying Dolly Parton songs on the radio why she is being interviewed in never established.
The Ugly: Dolly Parton: Here I Am misses absolutely giant chucks of the Dolly story. The 1987 album Trio that featured Dolly with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt. gets zero mention… (Her bluegrass album from 1999 gets a good twenty minutes… guess which one was a massive hit and helped keep her career in the limelight. I mean maybe it was a music rights issue but goodness at least mention it…)
Her collaboration with Kenny Rogers gets another all too brief mention and is used to highlight footage from Studio 54 which I am going out on a limb here isn’t really part of the Dolly Parton story or, for that matter, the Kenny Rogers story. I am pretty sure Studio 54 had shut down by the time Island in the Stream hit the radio.
Dolly’s charity work with literacy for kids and her theme park both get a less than a minute mention… really how many celebrities have their own theme park guys.,.. I am waiting…
In Conclusion: Dolly Parton: Here I Am has a great subject but is honestly a weak documentary… Did you know Dolly parton produced tons of television shows and TV movies including Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Well, you wouldn’t from watching this doc. Dolly Parton might be too big a story for one film. Here I Am would have been better off with a focus on one particular story rather than the scattershot approach seen here.