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Dumplin’ – Review



Release Date: 7 December 2018
Director: Anne Fletcher
Writer: Kristin Hahn - Based on the novel by Julie Murphy
Cast: Danielle MacDonald - Jennifer Aniston - Odeya Rush



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Posted December 17, 2018 by

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Dumplin’ – Review

Willowdean ‘Will’ Dickson (Danielle Macdonald) is a plus-sized girl who grew up idolising her Aunt Lucy in the Netflix adaptation of Julie Murphy’s young adult novel, Dumplin’. While her mother Rosie (Jennifer Aniston) was away winning beauty pageants, Lucy introduced Will to the wonders of Dolly Parton and her music while instilling in her a sense of self-confidence and love. It is also through Lucy that Will met and became fast-friends with Ellen (Odeya Rush) and the two have been inseparable since.

After a particularly bad day at school prompted by Will’s mother calling her by the nickname Dumplin’ in front of her school-mates, Will decides to take revenge by entering Rosie’s Miss Teen Bluebonnet beauty pageant. Will and Ellen sign up together, as does fellow rebel Hannah (Bex Taylor-Klaus) and another plus-size girl, Millie (Maddie Baillio). The film follows the characters surviving the pageant circuit, and each other, to reach a happy, twee ending.

From the outset, Dumplin’ is meant to be a feel-good film, carved from the same mould as so many other young adult romantic comedies that have come before. The stakes are never very high and the plot cruises along at a monotonous pace. The film is hardly memorable, especially given its choppy editing and lacklustre dialogue; but Netflix knows a winner when it sees one. And Dumplin’ has enough of the right ingredients to make it one.

Dumplin' - Review

Considering how poorly Netflix’s other body positivity film, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser, dealt with its central subject-matter, I approached Dumplin’ with a fair amount of trepidation. What sets Dumplin’ apart from other teen fare is that the film has not only one plus-size character as a protagonist, but two! Millie may not have as much character development as Will, but she is written as well-rounded all the same. She is also wonderfully endearing and likeable. The fact that viewers can champion traditional story arcs for two different fat female characters is such a novelty – even in 2018 – and that immediately makes this film unique. Not only that, both Will and Millie are innately good people and many of Will’s poor decisions are fuelled by fear and insecurity rather than a mean streak.

The film doesn’t try too hard to push the romance either – the central relationships of the film are between a handful of women and a couple of drag queens. All of it set to the tunes of Dolly Parton, who also contributed original material for the film. I would say that the romance is still treated as the eventual prize, which may be faithful to the film’s source material, but felt like it undermined the more important relationships that Will had built and re-built during the film. It doesn’t help that Luke Benward, who plays the love interest, looks a lot older than Macdonald – it made the entire premise uncomfortable to watch.

Macdonald and Aniston are comfortable in their roles as Will and Rosie, but their performances have that self-aware quality of knowing they’re acting in a film. The supporting cast of characters was full of familiar faces, including Dove Cameron, Harold Perrineau and Kathy Najimy, but none of them were given enough material to work with. Will’s friends were far more arresting, especially Millie and Hannah who deserved more substantial screen time.

What surprised me was how little ethnic diversity the film had – all the girls present as white and straight (though Hannah could possibly be on the LGBTQ+ spectrum). Seems like a strange casting choice to make in 2018.

Director Anne Fletcher has made a name for herself with conventional rom-com fare like The Proposal and 27 Dresses, and here she and writer Kristin Hahn patch together a decent film, without actually pushing any boundaries of storytelling. Some of Fletcher’s camera angles are questionable, especially in regards to how Aniston is framed, but all in all it is a good effort.

Despite the majority of the film being somewhat predictable, those who haven’t read the original book will be pleasantly surprised by the denouement.

For some, Dumplin’ is the ideal guilty pleasure for a quiet afternoon in. While it may not be high cinematic art, I love the fact that generations of young girls will have films like this one with unconventionally-sized protagonists that promote body positivity and being comfortable in your own skin.


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Lestat de Lioncourt
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