Celluloid Country: Rhinestone, Starring Dolly Parton and Sylvester Stallone
I love Dolly Parton with a love that borders on idolatry. But Rhinestone (1984) is just plain bad. It’s certainly not 9 to 5, a film I consider to be Parton’s Citizen Kane. It’s not even cheesy fun like Straight Talk, a film which sees Parton—again in the role of hillbilly sage who delivers bits of rural wisdom to clueless city dwellers—stumble into a Frasier Crane meets Oprah Winfrey radio gig while supported by a cast that includes Jerry Orbach, Michael Madsen, and James Woods. This movie is horrible, so bad that it “won” two Razzies (the un-award for cinematic abominations) and was nominated for several others. It’s 111 minutes of my life that I will (unfortunately) never get back.
Rhinestone starts with a musical montage showing New York City at night while Dolly Parton sings about how she’s just a country girl with the “Tennessee Homesick Blues.” Do you get the ironic juxtaposition of the city lights and Dolly’s down-home charm? DO YOU?! If not, don’t worry–the very unsubtle nature of this wacky city/country contrast will be seared into your brain by the end of the movie.
Anyway, it turns out Dolly is actually Jake, a good ol’ gal gigging at a country bar (The Rhinestone) while she’s stuck under the thumb of her lecherous, kimono-wearing Svengali manager, Freddie (Ron Lieman). Long story short, a contrived argument turns into a wager in which Jake has two weeks to turn an Average Joe into a country singer in order to get out of her contract. If she fails, creepy Freddie gets to sleep with her.
Who should show up at that very moment but one Nick Martinelli (Stallone), the most stereotypical New York cabbie ever. (A horrible driver, he lives above his parents’ funeral home, where he eats a lot of spaghetti.) Nick (of course) agrees to this stupid bet, and thus becomes the Eliza Doolittle to Jake’s sassy Henry Higgins.
After some non-witty non-banter, the gruesome twosome head down to Jake’s hometown of Leipers Fork, Tennessee, a backwoods town that makes Aintry, Georgia look like Paris. In order to make Nick a bona fide country singer, Jake and her father (Richard Farnsworth, seriously slumming it after appearing in films such as Gone With the Wind and Blazing Saddles) teach him all those things a country boy needs to know: horseback ridin’, hillbilly dancin’, country eatin’, and other folksy, “g”-less gerunds.
In the world of Rhinestone, all you need to be a country singer is new clothes, some folksy aphorisms, and a few days below the Mason-Dixon. Art imitating life, or vice versa? You be the judge.
Things are looking up for Nick when he makes friends with Bennett Cole, a vaguely homeless-looking barfly who turns out to sing country music in the town’s only bar. But wait—it turns out that Bennett is Jake’s ex-fiancé. How unexpected.
Nick and Jake eventually sleep together in her daddy’s house, and shortly thereafter they go back to New York and have to deal with gross Freddie and the stupid bet. Trouble ensues. I don’t want to spoil this cinematic masterpiece, but I will say that this is the type of trouble that apparently can only be solved by Nick riding a horse through the streets of New York.
It all leads up to Nick’s big debut at The Rhinestone, a scene that is worth watching if only for the absolutely bonkers “country” attire worn by Stallone. There are drag queens running sequinless around New York City to this day because of Nick’s selfishness. Remember that pinhole camera you made in second grade in order to watch a solar eclipse? You best find it, lest you hold The 9513 responsible for any retinal scarring that may occur.
Nick gets onstage to sing, and you can probably imagine the rest, because not one iota of this film deviated from the standard romantic comedy about two opposites and their antagonistic relationship that eventually blossoms into true love.
But on to the good parts. Well, good part. Dolly Parton’s music. Parton wrote all of the project’s music—here she’s credited as a Music Supervisor along with Mike Post, he of NYPD Blue and Law & Order fame—and like several of her other films, the sole redeeming quality of the movie is her singing. When she duets with Nick, Stallone’s guttural hollers are (thankfully) completely overshadowed. The moments where Stallone has to tackle Parton’s lyrics solo (the admittedly abysmal “Drunkenstein,” a song which I believe was written to be intentionally bad, because there can be no other explanation for this misstep) are sung with all the charisma of a dying moose.
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