Netflix’s ‘Dumplin’: a protest in heels
Netflix released another outstanding original film on the 7th of December: director Anne Fletcher’s mother-daughter, coming-of-age tale, Dumplin’.
Set in a small town in Texas, Dumplin’ follows a high-school, ‘plus-size’ teenager, Willowdean (Danielle MacDonald), who is in the process of mourning her idol and mother figure, Aunt Lucy. The film explores how Aunt Lucy inspired Willowdean to feel comfortable in her own skin in a society where ‘plus-sized’ women are made to feel inadequate for lacking the idealised ‘slim-lean’ frame.
Whilst sifting through her aunt’s possessions that her mother, Rosie, (Jennifer Aniston), quickly packed up and dismissed, Willowdean discovers that her Aunt was a beauty pageant hopeful, yet her lack of self-esteem resulted in her not participating. Willowdean decides to rebel against society’s views of perfection, entering the Miss Teen Bluebonnet Pageant.
She teams up with her best friend, Ellen (Odeya Rush), and two other girls who fail to conform to society’s ideal of ‘attraction’: plus-sized singer Millie and a seemingly hard-faced ‘goth’ Hannah, a girl with an ‘alternate’ style of dress. Willowdean’s mom, Rosie, who is a former beauty queen and current judge in this year’s competition, tries to dissuade her daughter from participating, stating that it’s ‘ok’ to quit. Willowdean accuses Rosie of being resentful toward her, implying that her beauty queen mom is ashamed to have an ‘overweight’ daughter. Rosie snaps back, stating that if Aunt Lucy had taken better care of her health, she may still be alive.
The core appeal of Dumplin is the complex relationship between a mother and daughter. Willowdean holds resentment towards Rosie for not being there as a mother, resulting in Aunt Lucy raising her. Jennifer Aniston’s performance is incredible, and one of her most layered characters since her independent project Cake.
Aniston does a great job at getting the audience to empathise with Rosie. Though represented in some scenes as a villain, such as when she tries to stop Willowdean from entering the pageant, we see her reasoning is simply to protect her child. Although she speaks ill of her sister Lucy at times, we come to understand that Rosie blames herself for not having the bond she wanted with her.
In my opinion, the characters that Aniston plays in her films are more or less the same, as is the genre of comedy she typically works in. Her performance in Dumplin was not only memorable, but a breath of fresh air.
Meanwhile, Danielle Macdonald is truly wonderful and authentic: she is to drama what Rebel Wilson is to comedy and the way she portrays her character is beyond praise. Willowdean has a lot of self-doubt and insecurities within herself and the relationship she develops with a co-worker, Bo (Luke Benward), at her part-time job.
However, she believes in herself enough to embrace who she is, and through this, changes the idea of what beauty is. Her given nickname from Rosie, “Dumplin”, at one time would fuel her insecurities; by the end of the film, Willowdean states that she is “Dumplin”, she is bigger than other girls, but she is beautiful, and she ‘loves big’.
Dumplin deserves to be commended for its approach to self-esteem and body image, as it displays that for plus-sized women, often the stigma that they may face from society in general (not just beauty contests), is just as damaging as the stigma they place upon oneself. The character development in this film is rare, and it sends the positive message that one person can change everything, if only they have the belief in themselves to do it.
Another thing I loved about Dumplin is that it challenges stereotypes. Willowdean’s love interest Bo, who is attractive and muscular, loves Willowdean for who she is, and her weight doesn’t change anything for him. It is extremely positive to see a man represented in this way, as opposed to typical representations of males who are appearance-obsessed ‘frat boys’, who bully girls they deem unattractive.
The beauty queens are also represented as genuine people, rather than adopting the ‘mean girl’ role. Pageant contestant, Bekah (Dove Cameron), is society’s definition of beauty: gorgeous, blonde and skinny, yet she never knocks the contestants who are different, she treats them the same as she would ‘the pretty girls’.
Dumplin is a must watch. The soundtrack is all Dolly Parton, which lends itself well to the Texan small town aesthetic, and makes the film original and memorable. The acting is brilliant among all of the actors, specifically Macdonald and Aniston.
The complexities of the characters and relationships between them is immensely impressive. The biggest reason why Dumplin is worth the watch is how relatable and relevant the issues they discuss are. Overall, a positive message to female audiences and the best take on body image yet.