It’s hard to find more fully-formed, all-around relatable and generally likeable characters than the stars of the recent documentary Hollywood to Dollywood. Maybe that’s because twin brothers Gary and Larry (I wish I was kidding) aren’t quite cut out for Hollywood. In a city that is characterized by its dreamers as much as its insincerity and fakeness, these two twins don’t quite seem to fit. If anything, this is a compliment. While they certainly have the Hollywood dream, and that’s what gets this documentary started, Hollywood to Dollywood is fueled by its protagonists charisma and charm.
On paper, Hollywood to Dollywood is about two twins who drive from Los Angeles to Pigeon Forge to give their script to their life-long idol, Dolly Parton. However, Hollywood to Dollywood is about a lot more than that. While it sells itself on their physical journey, the film concerns itself with a metaphorical one more than anything else. As stereotypes will probably tell you, two grown men who are obsessed with Dolly Parton are bound to be gay and sure, Gary and Larry are. While the surface story is about their journey from Hollywood to Dollywood, the documentary is also about these two country boys returning home and seeking acceptance from a mother who has difficulty accepting their lifestyle. That’s the heart of Hollywood to Dollywood.
What is perhaps most charming about Hollywood to Dollywood is that it was clearly sold as a quirky road trip story. After all, two twin brothers driving across the country to deliver a script to Dolly Parton has the whole “too crazy to be true” spin to it. While the circumstances are unique to Gary and Larry, there is a certain relatability to the other dimensions of their story. The sense of alienation that they describe is something most teenagers have felt at one time or another, particularly growing up gay in a small town. At the same time, there is a little bit of wish fulfillment on my part with Hollywood to Dollywood. Without getting too personal, I personally experienced a lot of the similar struggles that Gary and Larry did as a kid who was gay in small town America. Only, I didn’t have that support system of a twin brother. To see two happy and emotionally healthy family members who happen to be gay? It’s a big step. It’s just one of the many qualities that make the protagonists of Hollywood to Dollywood so intoxicatingly charming.
However, Hollywood to Dollywood knows what it’s doing in terms of documentary filmmaking. Sure, there’s some sloppy editing that disrupts the flow of the movie, but the fatal mistake of far too many documentaries is that they spend entirely too much time with their subjects. Just their subjects. Hollywood to Dollywood has the distinct advantage of being a cross-country story so the movie dedicates a fair amount of time to the twins and their travels, but breaks up the film with side characters. One of the most emotional moments of the film actually belongs to Cody, a hairdresser that the twins know in Arkansas. In an alarmingly candid moment, Cody tells the story of how he came out to his son. When his son asked him what being gay was, Cody responded, “It means I let a man love me like mommy loves me.” His son’s response was, “Daddy, I don’t care who loves you as long as somebody loves you.” It’s such a tender moment and Hollywood to Dollywood has the courage to let some of the stronger emotional moments fall to some of its side characters.
In the end, it is the twins’ love of Dolly Parton, their quest for acceptance and the people they encounter along the way that make Hollywood to Dollywood such a winning film. Although the outcome of the film seems fairly obvious from the beginning, the documentary does a good job of focusing on the journey more than the inevitable outcome. As such, Hollywood to Dollywood is an unconventional road trip story paired with the unlikely makings of a surprisingly earnest and honest documentary.