Full disclosure: I am not a fan of Jennifer Aniston. I’ve spoken previously about my dislike of women deemed America’s Sweetheart (never, ever trust something with that many teeth). I was planning on avoiding Dumplin (2018) like the plague due to her association, but then I started hearing really, really good reviews. People who knew of my dislike urged me to give it a chance, and I’m so glad I set my own bullshit aside and did. It’s about an overweight teen named Willowdean Dixon (Danielle Macdonald) who decides to enter a beauty pageant. Here are five reasons to watch it this weekend.
#1 – The source material
This film comes to us from the book of the same name by Julie Murphy. Murphy wrote the book in 2015, which received high marks from critics and readers alike for her approach to a tried-and-true trope. Rather than try to shed weight to conform to beauty queen standards, Willowdean learns instead to love who she is and accept that she deserves love in return. If you haven’t read it, it’s worth reading. Read more books, people.
#2 – What happens to beauty queens
I am so happy that the filmmakers covered this aspect of life after a youth spent in pageantry. Willowdean’s mother, Rosie (Aniston), was a teenage beauty queen. She’s now employed by a nursing home and spends much of her spare time either trying to make ends meet or reliving the glory days of her pageant years. There’s this perception that beauty queens marry rich and live their days out as kept wives, because society likes us to believe that the thin and pretty get those happy endings. Sometimes, though, they wind up as single mothers wiping someone else’s ass. And that’s important to see, because you have to be prepared to earn your keep. Pretty doesn’t always pay the bills.
#3 – Best friends
Okay, so Macdonald and Odeya Rush play best friends Willowdean and Ellen. The girls bond over their love of Dolly Parton (who the fuck WOULDN’T?!), and stay close into their teenage years. Witnessing two friends who care for each other, fight occasionally, and bring out the best in one another is a welcome change from how girls get portrayed in film under most circumstances. There’s no cyberbullying or back-stabbing or name-calling. No one is plotting to steal the other’s man (a concept I think is pure bullshit, but that’s a rant for another day). I think this portrait is incredibly important because it models a healthy relationship between friends. It’s not all about cutting each other down and trying to get the guy; sometimes, it’s about someone who just gets you.
#4 – This cast
Fuck me this cast is magic. I found myself rooting for so many people, and not once were they competing with each other. Aniston is great as Rosie, making an easily one-note character into a complex and sympathetic human being. Macdonald is superb as a girl learning how to love herself and cope with the loss of an aunt who truly wanted to show her that she was loved; I lost my beloved grandmother a year ago and can attest to how much it sucks to have someone who always believed in you go – trust me when I say that Macdonald gets this right. Then there’s Rush, who is making quite the name for herself in supporting, age-appropriate roles (I like you, Odeya – don’t become America’s Sweetheart, though). Harold Perrineau is a scene-stealer as drag queen/mentor Lee, and damned if his performance doesn’t make me want to see him in more stuff. The real prize, though, goes to Maddie Baillio, who plays ultra-sweet and optimistic Millie. Baillio makes Millie into someone for which we’d fight. I want Millie to win in every aspect of life with each fiber of my being. Millie for life, peeps.
#5 – Loving yourself first
Dumplin has a love story aspect, but that’s not the main draw. Sure, there’s a dishy guy involved, but that’s not the huge love story. The biggest love story is Willowdean learning to love herself and see herself as someone who deserves love too, which is not a tiny feat. So often, we look in a mirror and see the worst parts of ourselves: the extra pounds, the large pores, the beard that won’t grow in uniformly, the couple of inches taller we wish we were, the muscles that refuse to develop. We often use those pieces to tell ourselves that we don’t deserve to have certain people attracted to us, and that our lives can’t be any better because of some supposed attractiveness structure that limits us to a defined lane. This film tells us it’s okay to be who you are; it’s okay to love yourself, and it’s okay when that kind of love presents itself to you too. I think that’s a message more people need to hear.
Dumplin is available for streaming on Netflix.