We love a sweet, body-positive film, and Neflix’s new movie Dumplin’ is just that. An adaptation of the 2015 YA novel book written by Julie Murphy, the movie stars Danielle Macdonald and Jennifer Aniston who both deliver tear-jerking performances.
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The story revolves around Willowdean Opal Dickson, a plus-size teenager whose mother Rosie Dickson, played by Aniston, is a former pageant queen who embodies the societal pressures her daughter feels. Willowdean decides to sign up to the pageant in memory of her aunt Lucy Dickson (Hillary Begley), who raised her and was her hero, but sadly died. Willowdean discovers Lucy’s unsent application for the Miss Teen Bluebonnet Pageant in 1993—and feels she needs to enter the pageant.
The film explores Willowdean’s journey of self-acceptance, accompanied by a group of misfit friends, all un-traditional pageant contestants, who have each entered the pageant for different reasons.
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There are several parts throughout the film I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved the fact that because Lucy’s passing was just six months before the events of the film, she was able to contribute so much of Willowdean’s present life. For example, through the belongings she left behind (the unsent pageant entry form, and the flyer for a drag show) Lucy was the constant bridge between Rosie and Willowdean—at times collapsing, and other times building pathways for them to connect.
I also loved how at the end of the film, Aniston’s character cannot fit herself into one of the traditional/ceremonial dresses that honors the achievements of the contestants. It signifies really nicely how Rosie was always on Willowdean’s and Lucy’s cases about their weight—and karma delivered, but the lesson was how bodies can change as we get older, and how being bigger is just as beautiful.
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Many cultures were represented throughout the film in a way that makes me happy. The southern Texas vibe the film had is so nice—I loved the sound of the southern accent from Jennifer Aniston because I personally never seen her play a role like this, and it only presented more shades of her talents. I enjoyed how the movie showed that drag culture is very entertaining to watch, and I enjoyed how it emphasized their importance of the drag queens’ role in the story, (soothing Willowdean’s grief of her aunt) rather than a cutaway scene you see in many movies where drag queens are featured for shock value or comic relief. And finally, the pageant culture in the film, though I am not a pageant expert, it seemed spot on in the sense that in real life, you see the problems and challenges that contestants face, but at the same time, there was joy—and nothing in the film felt stereotyped or cheesy.
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The theme of Dolly Parton was prevalent throughout the film, as it was over her music that Willowdean and her aunt Lucy bonded. I’ve seen criticisms that the film oversold Parton, and in some ways, I can understand that, but when you look at it through a realistic and artistic standpoint, it works. What group of teenagers are not talking nonstop about music? I am happy they continued the Dolly references throughout the film, and she being the only musical choice in the movie makes it that much more engaging.
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What I found interesting, and it didn’t hit me until the end of the film, that we don’t know anything about Willowdean’s father. It didn’t feel like it was needed, because I enjoyed the large ensemble cast of women (also young women) and it made it worthwhile to watch.
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Every scene with Aniston and Macdonald is my favorite. When Willowdean finds Rosie in her room looking at Lucy’s ripped up Miss Teen Bluebonnet application (which Willowdean tore to pieces in frustration after an argument with love interest Bo Larson played by Luke Benward). Aniston brilliantly portrayed her characters realizing that even confident people like her sister can be insecure. What got me the most was Rosie saying she didn’t know her sister and her daughter telling her that she donated Lucy’s things like Rosie wanted in the first place. When Aniston says, “I think I gave too much of her away,” and holds her chest, sobbing—it got me. It’s amazing how a character like Lucy be so prevalent, and we don’t see her so much throughout the film, and it makes us mourn for her as well.
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The only thing I would say is I wished they clarified more of where, when, and how Lucy died. The film didn’t address it except when Rosie used Lucy as an example to Willowdean if she did not lose weight then she would go the same way as Lucy. Other than that we don’t have enough information, I felt.
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Like most things in life, the movie is not perfect but it’s pretty close! The film streamed on Netflix on December 8th.
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