Based on Julie Murphy’s YA novel, Dumplin’ is a total delight. Here are a few of the totally delightful things you will see in the Netflix dramedy’s 110 minutes: talent show yodeling, Dolly Parton drag queens teaching youths how to vogue, and Jennifer Aniston blow-drying away her tears.
“Dumplin’” is the nickname given to rebellious teen Willowdean (Danielle Macdonald) by her former beauty queen mother Rosie (Aniston, embodying a jazzercising Southern belle very convincingly), who still organizes the local pageant in their small Texas town. Upset by her mom’s fat-phobic insensitivity and inspired by the confidence of her late aunt, Willowdean decides to enter the competition and lead a “revolution in heels.”
What follows is a smart, heartwarming, and multidimensional story of self-acceptance that challenges hegemonic beauty standards (like the idea of a “swimsuit body”); shows how society pressures those who don’t fit into these standards to make themselves invisible; raises questions about who is allowed to join a revolution; explores the bottomless depths of grief and friendship; and reveals the link between adults’ insecurities and the expectations they project onto their children.
Throughout, wisdom bequeathed from Dolly Parton, Queen of the Earth, guides characters through hard times—they quote her lyrics like scripture and stop to wonder, “What would Dolly do?” Sadly, the Backwoods Barbie doesn’t make a cameo, but the soundtrack is packed with classics like “9 to 5” and “Two Doors Down,” as well as new renditions of old songs bolstered by guest artists like Sia and Mavis Staples.
Like any feel-good movie, Dumplin’ has moments of extremely gooey cheese, such as Willowdean making many decisions with the help of a Magic 8 Ball given to her by her crush. And despite the positive messages, it’s not without its faults, most notably that Rhea Ranged (Harrold Perrineau), the drag queen who helps Willowdean and her outcast friends realize their potential, is barely allowed room to expand beyond the “magical Black character” archetype. Plus, NO SPOILERS, but: The ending made me do a raspberry sound at the screen.
That said, I’m ecstatic that Dumplin’ provides an alternative narrative to the countless films about women ultimately succumbing to changing their appearance to find happiness and a man (cough, Miss Congeniality). Because it’s really freaking hard to be a diamond in a rhinestone world! Although it’s not perfect, Dumplin’ made my cold, prune-like heart grow three sizes. May even better films blossom in its wake.