&039Dumplin&039 Review: Where Body Positivity and Beauty Pageants Coexist
This week, we gave our group of interns a challenge: pick a movie from the past decade that didn’t seem like it was for you, so you didn’t see it. Watch that movie and review it. You can find all of their reviews on the Projects page.
To the tune of dolly parton‘s discography, dumplin’ makes a clear political statement with irresistible playfulness. Directed by Anne Fletcher (27 Dresses, The Proposal) and based on the young adult novel of the same name by Julie Murphy, the film revels in the classic coming-of-age . teen movie tropes while tenuously balancing a message of body positivity and the importance of community.
the plot of dumplin’ follows willowdean (danielle macdonald), who is nicknamed “will” by her friends and “dumplin'” by her mother, as she mourns the loss of her aunt. Lucy y deals with the beginning of pageant season in her small Texas town. It’s a big deal for her mom, Rosie (Jennifer Aniston), a former pageant queen and current director of the local Miss Teen Bluebonnet pageant.
After a falling out with his mother and the discovery that his aunt, who went to great lengths to boost will’s self-esteem through dolly parton music and a plethora of wise southern aphorisms, once considered joining the contest, will and his best friend ellen (odeya rush) enter in protest of the contest’s rigid standards.
The complex mother-daughter relationship at the heart of the film is a key element to its success. Rosie never directly shames her daughter, but her relationship is defined by her mother’s projected fears. This is seen in an emotional showdown between Will and Rosie, where Aniston’s performance shines. Rosie’s backstory doesn’t absolve her of blame when it comes to Will’s low self-esteem, but the moment is shocking and incredibly real. her relationship is flawed and has been shaped by their mutual insecurities, which is an honest reflection of the reality of many such relationships.
dumplin’ is an admirable film, as it focuses on the trouble spot of a beauty pageant, but it doesn’t demonize the expression of femininity. the movie’s version of the classic makeover trope is infectiously and unapologetically funny. With the help of drag queens, the girls learn to act on stage and access their own particular version of femininity, and we finally see that she will put aside her internalized misogyny and embrace herself. this is a time of validation, not physical transformation. will finally reveals who’s been inside all this time.
Because of fletcher’s previous work in the rom-com genre, his use of quintessential teen rom-com moments here is especially apparent, and the way he plays with them is far more satisfying. the director also insists on excluding certain tropes rather than subverting them. Instead of competing for the attention and affection of her boyfriend or her, she has both relatively early in the film. her but she has to go through her own journey to get to a point where she can believe in and accept that affection.
dumplin’ declares that there is power in expressing femininity and solidarity. the film is about internal self-esteem and the relationships that sustain it. the only problem with this internal approach is that it excuses external and institutional factors that are to blame for internalized fears of the will. many of the real barriers to will are removed; There are one or two instances of high school boys bullying Will because of her weight and a gloomy look from a beauty queen, but for the most part, Will is in an accepting mood. she just has to accept herself. this exclusion of real institutional and social barriers dilutes the film’s message.
While the film makes a great argument about how will becomes happier when he changes his relationship with his body and builds his self-esteem by supporting other women, dumplin’ in particular doesn’t go so far as to say that society should change to accept and love all bodies. the focus is on individual change, not broader social change. movies aimed at younger audiences can be downright political, but this movie stops short of telling us what needs to be changed.
there are also other problems with the film. the drag queens are reduced to a two-dimensional plot device for will’s further development, and there are moments of unclear writing, such as the unrealized subplots about the competition between city and small-town pageants. however, even with these issues, its feminist themes set dumplin’ apart from similar films, standing out as a coming-of-age film for a new era for daring to take a direct political stance.
related topics: anne fletcher, danielle macdonald, dumplin’, jennifer aniston, netflix, projects