Directed by Anne Fletcher
Willowdean “Dumplin'” Dickson (Danielle Macdonald) is the overweight teenage daughter of former local beauty queen Rosie Dickson (Jennifer Aniston). When Will enters the local Miss Teen Bluebonnet Pageant as a protest against Rosie, things gets beyond her as others follow and change the pageant and their small town.
Jennifer Aniston was convincing as single mother Rosie Dickson who is still stuck in the accomplishments of her past. Whether intentional or not Rosie’s daughter is left with the impression that in her mother’s eyes she does not quite measure up. I was left with the impression though that from the perspective of Aniston’s character she was just trying to protect her daughter but that was not what the daughter was understanding. She assumed her mother was ashamed when she was just wrapped up in her world and maybe at times emotionally neglectful.
The dynamic between the Will and Rosie felt real. Too often I will see an actress up on screen and she will have the obligatory child in the story but her moments with the child do not feel real. It is as if the actress has no idea how to connect with this young actor in front of them. I am thinking specifically of Ashley Judd in Double Jeopardy here. It is a good movie that falls apart when Judd must interact with the actor playing her child. She looked uncomfortable. Aniston came off as natural and quite comfortable. I give her credit for that.
Danielle Macdonald does an amazing job. She gets you to invest in the character. I felt bad for Will as she was struggling with self-image problems and her relationship with Rosie that both had been avoiding dealing with while her aunt who recently passed was alive. The aunt was a surrogate mother to Willowdean and now that she didn’t have that relationship to hide in she had to actually deal with the problems in their relationship.
One perpetual thorn is that all of Will’s friends call her “Will” with only her mother using “Dumplin’.” I can empathize with this as I had a childhood nickname that my parents used in front of everyone wherever we went, and it was always quite embarrassing. Macdonald’s reaction as the character was authentic. Will also deals with feelings of inadequacy when it comes to workplace hunk Bo (Luke Benward) who is clearly interested in her but she cannot understand why.
Willowdean and Rosie must also confront their feelings over the loss of Rosie’s sister. She was the glue that apparently held everything together and her loss is exposing old wounds. This movie does a good job at exploring the void that the death of a loved one can create in a family.
This is all set to an obsession Will and her late aunt had with the singer Dolly Parton which is shared to an extent by Will’s best friend. It is a sweet and quirky little connection that is played very effectively and provides for a great soundtrack but then you really cannot go wrong with Dolly. Fitting in with the Dolly theme in this movie is a drag biker bar that was an important part of the life of Will’s Aunt Lucy (Hilliary Begley).
The movie is about the assorted characters coming into their own. They are either being who they truly are or coming to terms with emotional baggage. Will is finally confronting apparent resentment she never realized she felt towards her best friend Elle (Odeya Rush). Meek Millie Mitchellchuck (Maddie Baillio) is inspired by Will to finally pursue her dream she had since she was eight years old and enter the pageant despite feeling that her weight was a hindrance as well as stand up to her overprotective mother (Kathy Najimy). Hannah Perez (Bex Taylor-Klaus) gets to just be herself in front of the world. I felt her part was the least developed. Too often she was just the sarcastic friend.
Dumplin’ is done in such a touching way here. Normally these types of films can get overly saccharine or overly downbeat but neither happens here. You feel the character highs and lows, but it is never downbeat nor is the film a knock-on parents or families or institutions. It is merely the story of a young woman and those around her and the growth they go through during a certain period.
The best part is they do not go for the obvious ending. Too often it is eyerolling and totally unrealistic. Dumplin’ does not win the pageant, but she is still victorious in her own way by bridging the divide with her mother and finally willing to believe it can work with Bo along with making amends with Elle.
There is a word that got tossed around quite a lot a few years back, but I have not heard it used too much recently. It is dramedy. That is what this movie is. It is a drama with plenty of comedic elements. It is serious but the seriousness is balanced out by lighthearted moments. You will laugh and it will tug at your emotions.
Dumplin’ is a very enjoyable heartwarming film adaption of the young adult novel of the same name. It has a great script with plenty of jokes and a significant amount of heart. If you get a chance you should watch this.