Standing up against the status quo has been a beloved, exciting trope, and in the new Netflix Original Dumplin’, it’s delightful and empowering. It’s a film that Insatiable and Sierra Burgess is a Big Loser wish they could be. The movie centres on Willowdean Dickson (Australia’s Danielle Macdonald), an overweight teen who loves Dolly Parton and has a dysfunctional relationship with her beauty pageant-obsessed mother Rosie Dickson (Jennifer Aniston), a former beauty queen herself.
Willowdean hates the world of beauty pageants, the overemphasis of the standard definition of beauty (e.g. thin) – anything that’s opposite to her looks, and Rosie’s emotional detachment towards her. Defiant and inspired by her late aunt who tried out for the town’s beauty pageant as a teen, Willowdean enters the same beauty pageant which her mother is a judge of. A “protest in heels”. She is joined by her friend Ellen (Odeya Rush), Millie (Maddie Baillio), who’s also overweight, and rebel Hannah (Bex Taylor-Klaus). Together, they stir things up.
There’s also romance on the side. We see sparks fly between Willowdean and her crush Bo (Luke Benward). Even though it’s sweet, the romance part paled compared to Willowdean’s goal or her friendships and relationship with her mother which came out quite strong and well developed, enough to bring tears. The film also explored the jealousy that could happen in friendships and not just over ambitions or differences, but even friends having new friends.
Both Macdonald and Baillio shine. They amazingly made their characters complex and refreshing portrayals of girls of all shapes and sizes. They’re ordinary and have their own dreams. They’re people. Neither character loses weight or do anything to fit in. The film nails its comedic side without punching anyone marginalised by society down.
Aniston was surprisingly a stand out. She portrayed Rosie as not just a typical former beauty queen and emotionally distant mother, but a complex person with her own problems and old views on beauty. She shows it isn’t too late or you’re not too old to change perception.
Without overloading your senses or throwing you off, Dumplin’ cleverly incorporates Dolly Parton from her famous songs as the soundtrack (she herself heavily contributed to the film, with new original songs and a new version of a classic with Sia) to a Dolly-themed bar to Dolly’s girl power-vibe mythos that shape Willowdean’s life and personality. After watching, you might be in the mood for Dolly too.
Dumplin’ is a heartfelt film about self-love, body positivity and equality, girls supporting each other, and mother-daughter dynamics.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Dumplin’ is streaming on Netflix now.