Movie Review: “Dumplin’”
Willowdean (Danielle Macdonald) is a troubled teen trying to find her place in the world, after the passing of her beloved Aunt Lucy (Hilliary Begly). Lucy pretty much raised Willowdean, because Willowdean’s mother was never around. Her mother (Jennifer Aniston) is a sort of a local celebrity, ever since winning the Miss Teen Bluebonnet pageant (a popular pageant in the small Texas town). Willowdean has never been considered a “pageant girl” due to her weight, but that will change this year.
Lucy died, but Willowdean is now old enough to enter the pageant for herself. Willowdean enters the pageant for a few reasons. First, she does it to make a statement against everyone who has ever made fun of her for her size. Second, she does it to make a statement against her mother for never being around. However, most importantly, she does it to honor her late Aunt Lucy.
The Pros & Cons
Body Image (-4pts)
Jennifer Aniston (+4pts)
The Plan (-5pts)
The Revolution (+4pts)
The Winner (-3pts)
Pro: Dumplin’ (+6pts)
I liked this character. Her story was one that was easy to get invested in. A beloved family member passes away, which fuels her mission. She also feels like an outcast due to her weight. That being said, she was raised to be confident and to be strong. She was an easy character to root for, and the story was made more interesting with the added aspect of being overweight while having a mother who is a former beauty pageant winner and current beauty pageant enthusiast.
The story was not the only reason why I liked this character. Danielle Macdonald did a really good job of playing Willowdean. I had just seen the actress for the first time in Bird Box, and thought she did fine in that movie, but she was impressive in this one. Her character got a ton of character development and Danielle Macdonald did a great job of showing that growth while playing all the character’s complexity in a really relatable way. This film would have been much worse without an actress that was able to pull off this character as effectively as Danielle Macdonald.
Con: Body Image (-4pts)
One part of the movie that I do not think was handled correctly was Willowdean’s weight. The character is overweight, and I hoped the movie would be about her character being okay with that. If someone is that overweight, it is certainly unhealthy, but if they are okay and happy with themselves, it is no one’s place to judge. I hoped the movie would address this, but instead the filmmakers spent the whole movie showing Willowdean being upset with her appearance, and it felt like a massive missed opportunity. If someone is overweight, they should not let anyone else dictate their lives. If they want to lose weight, or are happy with the way they look, it should be entirely up to them and they should own that choice. That is the statement that this movie so easily could have made, and I feel like it was a missed opportunity not to do so.
This movie could so naturally have been able to make a real statement about body image, confidence, and being happy with how you look (regardless of what others think). Instead, Willowdean does not think she deserves good looking guys, she is insecure with her appearance in comparison to her friend’s, and spends most of the movie feeling insecure. With all of that in mind, it would not make sense for the character to not want to lose weight. This leaves we, as an audience, having to pretend that losing weight is not an option, even though we were given no reason to believe that she was unable to do this. The movie does have hints of the type of messaging I was hoping for. For example, one of Willowdean’s friends (despite her size) was an insanely confident, and overwhelmingly happy character (like an exaggerated version of what I was hoping Willowdean would be). Instead, it felt like the filmmakers preferred playing it safe, over trying to make an impactful statement about body image.
Pro: Jennifer Aniston (+4pts)
Jennifer Aniston’s character was far from the focus of the story, but she left a pretty decent impression on the movie. She plays Willowdean’s mother, and while the movie focuses on Willowdean, her mother is the looming presence that Willowdean associates all of her problems with. The movie is about Willowdean overcoming her insecurities and the loss of her Aunt Lucy, and her mother is the embodiment of all of that. Willowdean feels like her aunt was a better parent than her mother was, and her mother is a constant reminder of Willowdean’s weight issues. The character could very easily have been a one-dimensional, antagonistic character, but Jennifer Aniston’s portrayal gave layers to the character that made me understand and sympathize with her. The writers did a good job of making the character more complex than she easily could have been, and Jennifer Aniston did a good job of making me connect with her.
Con: The Plan (-5pts)
One area that I thought was definitely lacking was the plan. Willowdean knew she wanted to join the pageant, but did not seem to have any idea of what she wanted to do once she joined. Did she want to sabotage the whole thing to really “stick it” to her mother? Did she want to win the whole thing to honor her aunt? These are questions the film never answers.
To clarify, the film says that Willowdean wants to sabotage the thing to embarrass her mother, but does not really have any plan to do so. She just kind of goes through the pageant with a chip on her shoulder. I do not want to get into the details, but it just felt like Willowdean had absolutely no plan at any point in the movie. This hurts the story because there is nothing for the viewers to get on board with. We do not know if we want to see her sabotage the thing or have a climactic triumph. Unfortunately, this causes a bit of a disconnect between the main character and the viewers.
Pro: The Revolution (+4pts)
The revolution was a small group of friends that joined Willowdean on her mission (I still do not know what that mission was) in the pageant. Basically, they were just other girls who also joined the pageant despite their appearance or attitude towards it. Ellen (Odeya Rush) is Willowdean’s best friend and is an important supporting character to Willowdean’s story. Millie (Maddie Baillio) is overweight, but easily the happiest person in the pageant. Hannah (Bex Taylor-Klaus) joins the pageant ironically despite hating everything it stands for. Of the group, Hannah was my favorite because of the humor she brought, but each of these characters worked and served a very different purpose for the story.
Con: The Winner (-3pts)
I thought the filmmakers made an interesting choice with the winner of the pageant. Part of me liked the decision because it was definitely not the typical choice (so I did not expect it), but it also felt anti-climactic. We follow a lot of characters throughout the story, between Willowdean and her friends, but the chosen winner did not feel like it had any payoff. That is all I will say about it because I know everyone is trying to avoid Dumplin’ spoilers, but just know that I thought the winner was a bit of a let down.
Grade: C+ (77pts)
Dumplin’ had the potential to make an impactful statement about body image, but I got the impression that the filmmakers just wanted to play it safe. Willowdean is an interesting character that the filmmakers developed poorly. That being said, Danielle Macdonald did a really great job in the role. Jennifer Aniston’s role was far from the main focus, but she made the character relatable when she could have very easily been one-dimensional. There were things about the movie that I liked a lot, and there were things that I thought the filmmakers dropped the ball with. I did not think it was not a bad movie, but it was not exactly a good one either.