Dumplin’ Movie Review

Sophia Longo, Staff Writer

Over the last few years, Netflix has become notorious for paving the way for smaller films and television series, of which have been able to achieve much greater success than they would have hardly ten years ago if not for the hugely popular streaming platform. Some of the most successful television series and films to have been produced were able to become wildly popular from Netflix, including hits shows like “Stranger Things,” “Orange is the New Black,” and the recently released Netflix original film, “Bird Box.”

Aside from these big budget movies and television series, Netflix has also become extremely gracious in introducing smaller, more simple stories to wide audiences that, if not for Netflix, most likely would have never heard of such films and television series. A perfect example of this is the recently released Netflix original “Dumplin’.”

The film follows the life of the plus-size Texas teenager Willowdean, known by her mother as “Dumplin’.” Willowdean, the daughter of a pageant-obsessed former beauty queen, grows tired of her mom’s behavior and treatment toward her. As a protest, she signs up for her mother’s beloved Miss Teen Bluebonnet pageant, inspiring her friends and a few other misfits to join the competition as well.

While Willowdean joins the competition to aggravate her mother more than anything else, her attitude changes as her friends become seriously invested in the competition, and as she finds out that her favorite late aunt once tried to compete in the pageant, yet backed out due to insecurities about her weight and appearance. Through the help of some of her aunt’s old friends, as well as her newly befriended fellow misfits, Willowdean not only gains confidence in her performance, but also in her overall appearance and attitude. Through channeling her aunt’s kindness and confidence, as well as her ability to be bold, Willowdean pulls off a stunning performance in the pageant and patches up her once strained relationship with her mother.

The film itself was so simple; there were no serious special effects, no huge costumes or disguises, and the cast was not entirely well-renowned, aside from Jennifer Aniston, who was brilliant in her role as Willowdean’s mother. This, I believe, enhanced the film, as simple stories like “Dumplin’,” with a simple plot and inspiring message, are not very common in our society, which tends to shower massive blockbusters with all of the love and attention and overlooks smaller films. Yet, the film was every bit as moving and hilarious and emotional, despite its simpler nature.

This brings me to another great part of the film: the message. Simply by watching the trailer, it is not too difficult to gather that one of the major themes in the movie is body positivity. The story could have taken the generic route and made Willowdean out to be a defenseless victim, or centered the story around a dramatic weight loss, but instead it focused on learning to be comfortable in one’s own skin, without the constant need to please others or gain revenge at their insensitive comments. This resulted in an unexpected impact after watching the film, as it took an unorthodox yet powerful approach in conveying this message.

One final thing I enjoyed about the film was Jennifer Aniston’s performance, as well as her character’s evolution. Of course Willowdean’s evolution into a confident, unapologetic person was the most profound character growth, but seeing as Jennifer Aniston’s character (Willowdean’s mother) was meant to be the antagonist in the film, I found her character’s evolution into a more accepting and progressive person, as well a more attentive mother, to be the most interesting and impactful storyline. Despite her many unthoughtful remarks and superficial values, her character, admittedly, added a lot of humor to the film, and demonstrated a perfect, seemingly difficult redemption arc, which is something modern society could gain great perspective from. And, of course, Aniston’s performance was very well done, and fairly unexpected from the beloved actress, given her niche for playing easily likeable characters. Overall, the film was great, and it should not be overlooked because of the simple storyline it follows or the simple message it conveys.