“Dumplin” is a sweet and uplifting tribute to Dolly Parton that uses teen perspectives to combat social stigmas and promote self discovery through nonconformity.
Bullied her entire life for her weight, Willowdean Opal (Danielle Macdonald) always found joy in one activity: dancing to Dolly Parton music with her Aunt Lucy. After Aunt Lucy’s death, Will is left alone with own mom Rosie Dickson (Jennifer Aniston), a dieting beauty queen seems to care about nothing more than directing the annual Bluebonnet Pageant of their small Texas town. Their relationship is strained because Rosie reminds Will of the shame she feels for being a big girl by calling her “dumplin” and criticizing her appearance. Along with her best friend (Odeya Rush), Will enrolls in the pageant to protest the demeaning beauty standards of her peers and mother.
This Netflix original portrays pageantry as an honorable institution that is not dominated by cruel social expectations and prejudice by emphasizing the wholesome message that pageants are for everyone. It seems Netflix is trying to make reparations for it’s last disastrous take on a fat girl joining a beauty pageant, “Insatiable.”
“Dumplin” follows all the cliched plot points of any coming-of-age high school rom-com. Will has a falling out with her best friend, her mom, and the boy she is crushing on, and like any schoolgirl who makes poor choices must work to right her wrongs(please see “Sierra Burgess is a Loser,” “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” “Easy A,” “Mean Girls,” or literally any teen drama with a female lead). But while Danielle Macdonald’s performance is candid and engaging, lazy scriptwriting downplays moments of reconciliation between her and her peers by rushing through scenes in which her character pines for redemption. As a result, this movie is anticlimactic and lacks the melodrama to achieve the comical effect that make teenage rom-coms iconic.
However, the charming and dimensional characters make this movie heartwarming. Will’s gang of misfits include anarchist goth Hannah (Bex Taylor-Klaus) and plus-size girl Millie (Maddie Baillino). Will initially resists their efforts to befriend her, especially Millie, who exudes the confidence that Will struggles to attain. But as she rejects her own insecurities, she comes to value their friendship over her self-consciousness. Together they form a “revolution” with the help of a band of Dolly Parton-inspired drag queens.
Being comfortable in your own skin does not come from the adoration of others, but rather from your ability to love yourself.
The warm portrayal of all the characters and lacks a villain makes the movie anti-climatic and somewhat unrealistic. The character that comes closest to being the antagonist of the movie is Will’s mother Rosie Dickson, and even she, with her genuinity, defies the common caricature of pageant moms. Sadly, given the discrimination towards big girls common at traditional beauty pageants, it is difficult to believe without naivete that Will and Millie would have a fighting chance in the competition.
Yes, the movie plays on idealism, and displays unhesitating acceptance for its unconventional characters. In moments of hopelessness, Will finds the strength in herself to accept her flaws, and with this change everything turns around for better. This is what makes the message of the movie utterly clear: Being comfortable in your own skin does not come from the adoration of others, but rather from your ability to love yourself.