Netflix tries to lure me in with previews of upcoming films all the time and I usually do NOT take their advice. When Dumplin' popped up on my screen with Jennifer Aniston however, I couldn't wait for it. I'm a big fan, and quite sure if we met we'd be good friends. And as the preview started, I was delighted that it featured Dolly Parton music - I fangirl over her too!
Dumplin' features Danielle McDonald as Willowdean, daughter of former Miss Teen Bluebonnet Rosie Dickson (Aniston), in Clover, Texas. Rosie, now the pageant director, is doing her best to keep the competition alive and traditional. Willowdean is a "big" girl, who idolizes not just Dolly Parton but also her dead Aunt Lucy, Rosie's sister (Hilliary Begley). Lucy shared her love of all things Dolly with Willowdean and had also introduced Willowdean and Ellen (Odeya Rush), who became instant best friends. Willowdean and Ellen bestfriend their way through life and into high school.
Willowdean and Millie Michalchuk (played brilliantly by Maddie Baillio) are teased by other students about their size and Willowdean also feels as if her mother is judging her based on her size. As an act of rebellion, Willowdean, Ellen, Millie, and fellow student Hannah enter the pageant. Willowdean and Hannah (played by Bex Taylor-Klaus) are ready for a revolution, but it turns out that Ellen and Millie enjoy the pageant rehearsals, dancing, and preparing their talents. Millie actually has wanted to be Miss Bluebonnet since childhood. The four stumble through pageant preparations. Willowdean goes through her Aunt Lucy's belongings and finds that Lucy had once begun an application to the pageant, but it was not completed. Willowdean also comes upon some information that leads to a surprising resource for pageant preparation - think another group of Dolly fans, big on costume and makeup.
I only have one minor complaint about the film and the handling of the fat girl story. I am a "big" woman - considered so since high school. I prefer to use the word "fat,” but it has taken on a negative connotation in our society today. Even when I was well over 200 pounds (at five foot two inches tall) if I said I was fat someone would say, "You're not fat!" or "Don't say that about yourself!" I have long declared that fat is a descriptive word, no more negative than saying a person is tall, short, blond, or has blue eyes. Dumplin' champions fat girls in so many ways, but it really stung me when Ellen and Willowdean had an argument as they prepared for the pageant. Willowdean in anger tells Ellen to join her friend from work at "the store that hates fat people." "For your information, Willowdean, " says Ellen, "I never thought of you as fat." Sigh...., like that is the worst thing she could think? I have not read the novel by Julie Murphy. I would like to read it and see if the usage is the same. While looking up the book I learned that there is a sequel called Puddin' - time to get reading, I guess.
This is not director Anne Fletcher's first film, but her previous credits seem vastly more focused on choreography and crew. Dumplin' is an achievement in her career and I am so happy to see a woman calling the shots for a film written by and starring women. I would agree with other reviews that describe Dumplin' as a feel-good film, but I also felt like the fat girl story was handled with joy and sensitivity for the most part. Spoiler - that means there is a happy ending, yes, but the happiest ending was the self-actualization story of more than one fat girl/ character who was able to follow Dolly's wisdom to "Find out who you are and do it on purpose."