Dumplin’ Review

A lighthearted, music-driven comedy about friendship, self-love and boldly defying expectations, “Dumplin’” is the modern-day small-town Texas answer to the stage musical “Hairspray.” Somehow, however, it was conceived as a book and adapted into a film for purposes of streaming on personal devices despite its clear Broadway desires.

In the capable hands of modern rom-com director Anne Fletcher (“The Proposal,” “27 Dresses”), “Dumplin’” competently strings together the story of heavy-set teenager Willowdean a.k.a. Dumplin’ (Danielle Macdonald), who – with her best friend, Ellen (Odeya Rush) and a few similar “misfits” – enters the local beauty pageant run by her mom (Jennifer Aniston), a famous past winner.

Based on Julie Murphy’s novel, the film’s ethos is built on the wit and wisdom of Dolly Parton, treating her famous quips as Bible verse and loading the soundtrack with her greatest hits – again, in accordance with many of today’s new stage musicals. Yet through Dolly, Willowdean has made her way as a strong-headed young woman and presents an admirable protagonist. “Dumplin’” therefore works as a character-driven film radiating just the right amount of female empowerment to make it both tolerable and sweet.  

A lot of that credit belongs to the duo of Fletcher and her star, Macdonald. Macdonald presents Willowdean as both self-assured and insecure. She knows who she is, and the film spares us conflict over her self-acceptance. She has no issues with her size, but she knows exactly how it’s impacted the way through which she can move through the world and Macdonald owns all that, while still conveying her fragility. Fletcher has good instincts for hitting those character and story beats in clear but understated ways and nicely guides the performance to keep us invested in Willowdean’s journey.

Every down moment in Kristin Hahn’s script does seem to magically be answered by a surprise pick-me-up, but it’s the choice to exude positivity and depict positive self-image, not whimsy at the expense of reality. There’s something simply awesome about a bunch of Dolly Parton drag queens swooping in and lifting the girls’ spirits and their confidence. If a bunch of gay men living in the heart of Texas (unlikely as it may seem) can fearlessly dress and perform as Dolly, anyone can own their truth. It’s all a bit surface and surely the ideal scenario is never to have queer characters who aren’t fully acknowledged as queer serving the needs of traditionally gendered main characters, but the themes are valuable and well-articulated.

The only misfire in the story is the way Willowdean’s dead aunt, who we only meet in half-baked flashbacks, serves as this ghostly McGuffin of sorts, floating around the story and impacting/motivating the characters despite not having a tangible presence in any aspect of the plot. But “Dumplin’” still manages to hit enough sentimental notes to pass muster, especially as an option one might stumble upon while Netflix browsing, perhaps with people of varying ages and interests.

3/5 Stars

Directed by Anne Fletcher
Written by Kristin Hahn, Julie Murphy (novel)
Starring: Danielle Macdonald, Jennifer Aniston, Odeya Rush, Maddie Baillio


You can be the first one to leave a comment.

Leave a Comment