Film Review – Dumplin’

Directed: Anne Fletcher

Writer: Kristin Hahn (screenplay), Julie Murphy (novel)

Starring: Danielle Macdonald, Jennifer Aniston, Odeya Rush 

Tagline: “Find out who you are and do it on purpose”

Trivia: The producers took the cast to a Sunday drag brunch so they could get to know each other.

Who would have thought that Dolly Parton would become an inspirational figure, but after watching Dumplin’ you’ll also rush out and get your hands on her songs to get inspired and confident, just like Willowdean in the above movie.

For someone, like me, who has been monitored from early age on how much she eats in order to prevent becoming a plus size woman (not that this was the term in my days, it was the harsher one – “FAT”) any movie where the Protagonist is a plus size actress would be on my watch list.

When was the last time you’ve seen a real plus size Protagonist who is confident and feeling at ease in her own skin? Ahhh… rarely. That’s one of the reasons that makes Dumplin’ such an adorable movie.

As Dolly would say, ‘It’s hard being a diamond in a rhinestone world,’” Willowdean Dixon’s Aunt Lucy (Hilliary Begley) tells her in the opening sequence of Dumplin’

Directed by Anne Fletcher, written by Kristin Hahn and starring the fantastic Danielle Macdonald is exactly that – a diamond in a world of rhinestone movies that try and fail to preach body positivity.

Adapted from the novel by Julie MurphyDumplin’ is an inspiring comedy for bigger girls everywhere, who haven’t really had a protagonist they can count on – until now.

On its surface, Dumplin’ is a slight, charming comedy about beauty pageants and learning to be yourself, but watch closely enough and you might see some of the new moves it brings to an otherwise predictable routine.

The film follows plus-size teen Willowdean Dickson whose mother, Rosie (Jennifer Aniston), is a former beauty queen who continues to obsess over the town’s local pageant.

Mom and daughter don’t get along too well: Rosie’s world of hairspray and tight dresses and perfect posture means nothing to Willowdean.

But in some ways, the teenager is a lot more grounded than the grown-up. Seemingly content being herself, Willowdean displays a cutting sense of humor and a certain devil-may-care confidence, instilled by her late aunt Lucy, who also fostered an undying love for Dolly Parton in the young girl.

It’d be easy for Dumplin’ to settle into just another competition narrative, or to keep playing up the conflict between Willowdean and her mom, or to focus primarily on its romantic subplot. (The protagonist has a crush on the hunky grill-man, played by Luke Benward, at the diner where she works)

The movie purposefully steers clear of all that. The pageant scenes are delightful, but they mostly avoid focusing on the competition itself or on the details of who might win and who’s ahead.

More importantly, the tense relationship between Willowdean and Rosie manages to retain its complexity throughout.

Mom is never seen as callous or cartoonish, but rather as someone who learns to accept that her daughter can be a part of her beloved pageant world without changing who she is.

Aniston is giving a superb performance here in a role that is not her usual one. She leans into Rosie’s obsession, but steadfastly resists the easy urge towards caricature or judgment.

Instead, she portrays a woman whose hardships have been kept at bay by a strict set of rules. Rosie wasn’t able to control her lack of education or the difficulties of being a financially insecure single parent. But for her, there’s both comfort and pride to be found putting yourself together well, especially when life threatens to fall apart.

Aniston does a fine job balancing Rosie’s broader elements with what feels like a genuine concern for her child.

Dumplin’ will inspire any woman of any age to love who they are despite what society says we should look and act like.  As Dolly would say, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”

Verdict – 4.5/5 Stars in my book


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