"The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain."
- Dolly Parton
Funny story here, but when I first saw the book Dumplin' on our shelves at the library, I thought it was about a young overweight drag queen who entered a teen beauty pageant to disrupt the status quo. I never read the book (not because of that), but I eventually figured out that it was really just about a girl. So, I went into watching Dumplin’ totally blind, and what should appear? Dolly Parton drag queens. I just knew there would be drag queens! One of them even treats us to a rousing lip sync of Dolly Parton’s "Jolene". If you didn’t know, there’s a lot of Dolly Parton in Dumplin’ – minus the actual Dolly, although she does provide the soundtrack with several of her classic hits and a few new songs penned especially for this film!
In Dumplin’, our small town Texas-livin’, Dolly Parton lovin’ heroine, Willowdean Dickson (Danielle Macdonald), is beautiful, no matter what they say. Words won't bring her down! Okay, so maybe the nickname "Dumplin'" will bring her down a bit, but as she comes to face her greatest enemy, which is herself, she comes to embrace it. The journey to that embrace isn't your typical journey, though. There's the threat of mean girls (mainly Dove Cameron), but they never strike - there's no moment where a group of them back Willowdean into a corner, call her names, and tell her she's not good enough, which causes her to bawl and have a spiritual Dolly Parton intervention – although Dolly’s classic tunes and near-philosophical words of wisdom help Willowdean pull through. Sure, the other girls in the pageant snicker behind her back (Willowdean brings it upon herself, to be honest), and some folks give her "girl, what are you doin' here?" looks, but, like I said, the threat is mostly internalized. Bo (Luke Benward), a good-ole burger-flippin’ country guy, does everything but take out a billboard for Willowdean, but due to her own insecurities, she pushes him away. What a dummy! Sometimes, I just really wanted her to snap out of it, but I have my own insecurities, so I know it's not just something you can snap away. So, I'm a dummy, too, at times. That flip of the script is what really sells Dumplin' as something different and unique in a market oversaturated with teen issues. Dumplin' is also grounded in reality, particularly concerning the beauty pageant results, and I respect that.
Performances all around ranged from good to great - the good are only limited to good because they didn't have much to do, such as Bo who disappears for way too long – he wasn’t even at the pageant! The greatest of the great, of course, is Jennifer Aniston, who could have easily come off as Willowdean’s wicked former teen beauty pageant winner (not step) mother, but instead brings a layer of complexity and sympathy to perhaps the most "villainous" character in the film. Others do shine, though, and Danielle Macdonald is one of them as the titular Dumplin', but she can come across as insufferably stubborn, at times. However, the one who shines the most is Maddie Baillio as Millie - I'm so proud of her!
Overall, this is the feel-good movie I've been needing lately, and no matter if she wins the crown or not, Willowdean Dickson is still a winner! If you’re interested, Dumplin’ is available to watch on Netflix. If you're interested in reading Dumplin', we currently have no suitable copies available for check out, but check back with us after the New Year!