Film Review – Dumplin’ (2018)
Dumplin’ will probably be the last Netflix movie I review this year, and thank god it is, because it is an absolutely fantastic treat to end the year on. Be warned though, you might find yourself crying uncontrollably at times during the movie, so much so that you wonder if it’s that time of the month. But no, it’s not your hormones waging a war, this movie is just too good.
The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: Anne Fletcher
Written By: Kristin Hahn (screenplay) and Julie Murphy (Based on the novel by)
It is the final year of high school for Willowdean (Danielle Macdonald), affectionately nicknamed ‘Dumplin” by her mom Rosie (Jennifer Aniston). Raised by her Aunt Lucy (Hillary Begley) on a heavy dose of Dolly Parton, Willowdean was taught to never let other people’s opinion of her body affect her. This is a hard thing to do when her mother is a former beauty queen, who works very hard to maintain her looks and figure. After discovering that her Aunt Lucy wanted to join a beauty pageant and never went through with it, Willowdean feels she owes it to her aunt and joins the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet as a tribute to her, but in the midst of this discovers that maybe beauty pageants can teach you a thing or two about life, friendship and love.
Jennifer Aniston is heavily involved in this film, serving not only as actor but executive producer as well. She and writer of Dumplin’ Kristin Hahn founded the company Echo Films, which is the production company for the movie. When Aniston and Hahn reached out to Dolly Parton to get the rights for some of her songs, they asked her if she could write a theme song for the movie as well. What started out as a request for a theme song grew into 6 new songs that goes into the movie’s soundtrack.
So, in addition to all the old Dolly Parton favorites that you might have, you will also be introduced to new ones in this movie, which are “Girl in the Movies” (which has been nominated for a Golden Globe), “Red Shoes”, “Push and Pull”, “If We Don’t” and “Why” — the first five penned by Parton and composer/producer Linda Perry, with the sixth written solely by Parton. Even in 2018 Dolly Parton shows why her songs have such lasting impact and influence.
Every Body is a Swimsuit Body
As a society, I think we recognize the limitations that exist in the pageant world. There is a fixed mold of how a woman should look — long flowing locks, slim yet full figure, a mega-watt smile. Little Miss Sunshine hit against these expectations quite nicely, and Miss Congeniality showed that there is heart and warmth in such events, not just superficiality. What I like about Dumplin’ is that it carves its own niche, a niche that is highly relevant in the current discussion of body image and beauty. As the world grows to embrace different body types, we realize that the pageant world has not really done the same. Interestingly, it is not that the pageant world actively seeks to exclude a variety of body types, it could also be that women who possess bodies not in keeping with the expectations might feel that they don’t really belong in such worlds.
“It is harder for big girls,” Jennifer Aniston’s character (Rosie) says to her daughter at one point, and she’s right. I know because at one point in my life I did feel my weight gain acutely, especially when I looked around and saw girls who were slim and beautiful. There existed within me this need to be like them, to look like them, so I took the steps to lose the weight. After I did, I lived with the fear of the weight piling back on again. It is a painful way to live — wondering how people are looking at you, hoping that you measure up.
Willowdean is confident in her body and how she looks, especially since her Aunt Lucy always empowered her to feel good about herself. However, it is a difficult thing to maintain when her mom is a former pageant queen and is heavily involved in the pageant world. People look at Willowdean and wonder how she is Rosie’s daughter, and Willowdean herself feels judged and consistently evaluated by her mom. This eventually affects her relationships with best friend Ellen (Odeya Rush) and love interest Bo (Luke Benward).
If I Wasn’t Born a Woman, I Would Be a Drag Queen
The inclusion of Drag in the movie is sheer genius. Essentially, the pageant world is built around gender as performance, where women trot around in heels and evening wear. The world of Drag involves the same thing, with men performing as women. Initially, Willowdean thinks she needs to stage a revolution, to take a stand against the pageant world. But the Drag Queens show her a different side to things. Dressing up doesn’t have to feel artificial, it can be a medium for you to express yourself.
The best thing is that it is not only Willowdean who learns this and grows to embrace herself more readily, her mad-cap friends do so as well. They realize that they had certain misconceptions about the pageant world. Instead of the environment of judgement and criticism that they were expecting, we get friendship and camaraderie. The movie does a great job of moving away from stereotypes, showing us that if we always expect the worst of people, then we would never venture outside of what we know, and that’s a shame, because the world can surprise us at times.
Fans of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet would be pleased to know that Mercutio (Harold Perrineau) is back in all his Drag Queen glory. He does a better job of being a woman than I do, and makes me feel like going out to buy myself a pair of red heels (of course I won’t, I don’t want to fall down a flight of stairs and perish).
Y’all Girls are Different Versions of the Same Story
I love love love (said three times for emphasis) the female relationships in this movie. There are so many dimensions and layers to all of them. Willowdean shares a complicated relationship with her mother, feeling that her Aunt Lucy was the person who ‘got’ her, while her mom is stuck with her. Now that her aunt has passed on, she thinks that her mom is happy to just move on and forget her. This is not the case. Rosie feels the loss of her sister just as much as Willowdean feels the loss of her aunt, they just show it in different ways.
Rosie, tremendously portrayed by the ever-talented Jennifer Aniston, feels that her daughter mocks the world she is a part of. She is frustrated about the constant comparison Willowdean draws between her and Lucy, relegating her to the role of outsider, isolated from the world the both of them built together. As the movie progresses, we see Rosie and Willowdean overcoming the barriers they have with each other, knowing that while they are very different people, that’s okay because they will always love each other.
The female friendships are all portrayed so genuinely. When Willowdean and Ellen have a fight, Ellen doesn’t give in easily to Willowdean’s apology. There is this recognition that true friendship is not just about shared laughs and banter, but the urging of the other person to be better. It is Ellen’s refusal to reconcile immediately that forces Willowdean into action. This also propels her to allow other people into her life, and develop other female friendships.
Find Out Who You are and Do It on Purpose (Final Thoughts)
I didn’t mention the male characters as much in the main part of my review, but I have only good things to say about Luke Benward, the actor who plays Bo in the movie. Initially I couldn’t place where I had seen him before, until I saw his name in the end credits. He plays the young college boy infatuated with Melissa McCarthy’s character in Life of the Party. While that movie wasn’t exactly the best comedy or movie, I enjoyed his love-struck performance. He is absolutely charming in this movie as well, so authentic in his scenes with Macdonald. Netflix already showed us that Noah Centineo is the perfect boyfriend. Now we have Luke Benward. I do wish these male characters would develop a bit more layers, because they come across as much too ideal and perfect, but I can cut them a bit of slack since the romance plots are not center-stage.
Lastly, I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I didn’t discuss the presence of Dolly Parton in the movie and soundtrack. Willowdean’s aunt introduced her to Dolly Parton, and her love for Dolly became Willowdean’s love as well. Ellen is dragged into the world, and Parton’s music forms the backbone of Ellen and Willowdean’s friendship. The music weaves in so naturally with the movie and its atmosphere, and I gained a whole new appreciation for Dolly Parton and her music. I actually know quite a few of the songs that appeared in Dumplin’, but I never really paid attention to the lyrics until this movie, since Netflix has subtitles. She is an amazing songwriter, and I can’t wait to give more of her songs a listen.
As you can tell, I really adore this movie. Jennifer Aniston brings her A game as usual, and Danielle Macdonald holds her own as the protagonist. Thank heavens this is a Netflix movie, otherwise I would have been the weird girl crying alone at the movies. There are so many emotional stirring moments, well-developed characters whom I could root for, and an ending that brought me to goosebumps. This is what Sierra Burgess is a Loser tried to be but wasn’t able to accomplish.
I think at this point, you need to stop reading my review and go watch the movie. Netflix has a large and immense repository, but I urge you to put aside whatever you were going to watch, and take a bite of Dumplin’ instead. You won’t regret it.
Thank you for reading! What are you thoughts on Dumplin’? Comment down below!
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