Netflix's Dumplin' isn't built on rhinestones and stilettos. Yes, the small town comedic drama comes with plenty of that as-advertised pageant glam, but it finds crucial footing in a simple maxim from the Queen of Country: "Figure out who you are and do it on purpose."
Originally told in Julie Murphy's YA novel of the same name, the story of Willowdean Dickson and her protest in heels is one worth gushing over. Its self-acceptance narrative doesn't tread new territory, but instead weaves numerous beloved pastimes into a coat of many colors fit for Dolly herself.
Starring Danielle Macdonald and Jennifer Aniston, with massive support from an original Parton soundtrack and a number of talented drag performers, Dumplin' explores how we treat "plus-size" and otherwise othered women in a world increasingly focused on the superficial. Although the film's second act begins to border on preachy cliché, its glittery-yet-goofy approach to presenting a difficult topic to an adolescent audience manages to stay both entertaining and enlightening.
Check out some of Dumplin's strongest selling points below.
Dumplin' digs into the often unspoken realities of body image
Upon first glance, Dumplin' seems a whole lot like Netflix's catastrophically problematic Insatiable, right down to the Southern beauty pageant setting. However, even a casual viewing of the film's first 5 minutes makes it crystal clear that these creators aren't making the same mistakes.
Ruminating on topics like shame and comparison, Dumplin' forgoes a standard high school bullying plot line to explore the more nuanced realities of negative self-image. Viewers are not subjected to painful, prolonged sequences of name-calling, but instead are invited to witness the private psychological punishments that many who feel they are "less than" inflict on themselves.
Whether you have struggled with body image or some other kind of self-doubt, Willowdean's relatable and frank coming-of-age portrayal will have you asking, "Why didn't I get to see this sooner?"
Bo is our next Peter Kavinsky
Now, that's not to say Dumplin' is our next TATBILB. Lightning like that doesn't strike twice. (Although, there is that sequel...)
What Bo (played by Luke Benward) and Peter Kavinsky have in common is that they're both really, really good boyfriends. Through a series of precious romantic gestures, including the gifting of a Magic 8-Ball and a meteor shower viewing invitation, Bo establishes himself firmly as a deserving and delightful love interest for Willowdean.
As Willowdean's self-consciousness mounts and the pair's relationship becomes more complicated, Bo remains a true blue good guy. Patient, forgiving, and consistent, he is the perfect antithesis to the Jake Ryans of yesteryear.
The drag queens and Dolly are to die for
As Parton herself has pointed out, drag and Dolly have always had quite a bit in common. Dumplin' is the perfect, crossover representation of the shared fandom's larger-than-life approach to love, beauty, and confidence.
While Ms. Parton doesn't appear in the film, a number of Dolly look-a-likes shepherd Willowdean's journey—most notably, RuPaul's Drag Race's Ginger Minj and Lost's Harold Perrineau.
Each moment the pair spends on stage is not only enjoyable, but also impactful. Glittery fountains of wisdom, Dumplin's drag queens are the prettier, gutsier, bolder fairy godmothers 2018 teenagers demand.
As usual, Jennifer Aniston totally delivers
Par for the course, Dumplin's trailer is a fairly misleading, presenting Aniston as a larger part of the film than she actually is. That being said, Aniston more than delivers as Willowdean's former teen beauty queen turned self-centered mom, Rosie Dickson.
Not nearly the caricature Dumplin's promotional materials depict her to be, Rosie is a layered woman with her own complicated relationship to confidence. Too often putting her appearance in place of her self-worth, Rosie doesn't experience a revolutionary change of heart during the film, but does come to understand how her actions have harmed her daughter.
At its core, Dumplin' isn't just about Willowdean making a point. It is about a mother and daughter crafting a loving relationship in the face of the unreasonable expectations society has placed on both of them.
While imperfect, Dumplin' asks not only its characters, but its audience to find loving common ground by admitting a simple truth. In the words of Dolly, "If you don't like the road you're walking, start paving another one." Amen, mama. Amen.
Dumplin' is streaming on Netflix and screening in select theaters now.