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Hollywood to Dollywood

As much a road movie as it is a subtle screed on civil rights, John Lavin’s Hollywood to Dollywood follows two openly gay brothers as they travel from one eponymous location to the other for the sole purpose of handing a spec script to their idol, Dolly Parton. To the uninitiated observer, much of this will no doubt seem strange—it certainly did to this writer—but we’ve reached a point at which any documentary handling such oft-sensationalized subject matter as this in an evenhanded manner is a welcome exception. Neither the brothers (Gary and Larry Lane) nor Lavin himself ever turn this story into a manipulative tearjerker—which would have been easy to do, given how genuinely sad it is at its core. The two North Carolinians spend an inordinate amount of time explaining away their Southern Baptist mother’s inability to accept their homosexuality, continually passing it off as inherited cultural baggage that takes time to resolve itself. Parton, meanwhile, emerges as a near-mythical figure whose laid-back acceptance makes her surprisingly likable: “I think I’ve always been accepted in the gay community because I accept them,” she says at one point in archival footage. (It’s still a bit difficult to imagine her watching the Lanes map out every detail of their scheme without being a little weirded out.) Even at a lean 81 minutes, though, Hollywood to Dollywood occasionally gets tiresome; what it does minute to minute is often less interesting than what it represents.

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HERE YOU COME AGAIN

Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s Tennessee theme park, is an embarrassment of riches for fans of the Smoky Mountain Songbird. It’s got a replica of the Appalachian cabin in which she grew up, members of her extended family working the BBQ stands, and one of her wig-and-sparkly-outfit-packed tour buses. One thing it doesn’t have, however, is a transgender gospel singer doing tributes to some of Parton’s most soulful work. That’s why that’s Tennessee, and this is New York. Tonight, catch Our Lady J in the fourth annual Gospel of Dolly. The singer, who incidentally is best buds with Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe, will be joined by the Train-to-Kill Gospel Choir for a spiritual journey through the hits of our favorite country queen.

Tue., Dec. 28, 9:30 p.m., 2010