Filmmaker Tai Uhlmann pulls off a tricky balancing act in “For the Love of Dolly,” an intimate glimpse at adoring fans of country-pop songstress Dolly Parton. Without attempting to satirize or romanticize its subjects, docu offers a mostly sympathetic but never condescending view of devoted zealots who occasionally blur the line between stalking and stargazing. After a brief spin on fest circuit, pic should find receptive aud as cable and pubcast fare.
Opening scenes suggest a spoofy intent, as Uhlmann intros such fervent Parton fans as Jeanette, who has transformed her backyard into a scale model of the singer’s childhood home, and Patric and Harrel, longtime companions who want to market their meticulously handmade (and fabulously kitschy) Dolly dolls.
Emotional stakes are raised as Uhlmann emphasizes how much Parton’s “Be yourself!” credo of self-acceptance means to true believers, like Patric and Harrel, a middle-aged gay couple living in a conservative Texas suburb.
Parton is even more inspiring to David, a mentally challenged young man whose fixation has been therapeutic. He buys Parton souvenirs and takes regular trips (accompanied by his parents) to the star’s Dollywood theme park.
Dollywood also is a mecca for Melisa, a vulnerable waif who claims her “Love of Dolly” enabled her to survive the trauma of a childhood marred by sexual abuse. During pic’s most troubling scene, Melisa freely admits that, as a little girl, she once prayed for cancer, so that she might become a Make-a-Wish Kid and land a personal audience with her idol.
Melisa and other interviewees are unaffectedly forthcoming, if not utterly shameless, as they discuss all aspects of their obsession. They seem especially eager to describe their various pilgrimages to Dollywood, where Parton sporadically recognizes and acknowledges them.
Uhlmann captures a few seconds of interaction between the Parton and her fans during an opening-day parade at the Dollywood theme park. Unfortunately — but not altogether surprisingly — filmmaker was unable to talk with the star herself. Aud is left wondering whether Parton would prefer not to talk (or even think) about her role as center of the universe for her most fanatical aficionados.
Tech credits are serviceable. Pic benefits from Uhlmann’s canny use of home videos shot by fans at Dollywood and elsewhere.