Netflix’s latest film, Dumplin’, is a fresh take on the idea of a makeover  


I am a movie crier. Happy movies. Sad movies. Action movies. I cry at them all. Most people close to me know this by now and simply shrug and look away when they see me shed a tear over Disney’s Inside Out or the seemingly harmless Nanny McPhee. Whether in the theater or at home on my couch, I will cry either way.

Netflix’s latest film Dumplin’ was no exception.

Based on the book by Julie Murphy, Dumplin’ follows the story of teenager Willowdean Dickson, Will for short, in her small town of Clover City, Texas. The most prized event is the Miss Teen Bluebonnet competition, run by Willowdean’s own mother. Rosie Dickson, played by Jennifer Aniston, is the director of the show and has devoted her life to running it. Her daughter, however, does not share this same interest.

For the early years of her life, Willowdean is primarily raised by her Aunt, Lucy, whom she looks up to in every way. From her style to her views and undeniable confidence, Willow and Lucy are the perfect portrait of a familial relationship. Lucy and Will bond over their shared love of Dolly Parton music and host their weekly “Dolly Parton Parties” to commemorate their fondness for her.

When Lucy dies, though, Willowdean is forced to face the world by herself. One of these realities is the schism between her and her mother. However, the friendship between Willowdean and her best friend Ellen, played by Odeya Rush, allows the two to lift each other up and forget the cruel ways of the world.

In order to combat her mother’s fierce obsession with the Miss Teen Bluebonnet show, Willow, Ellen, and a group of two other girls decide to enter. Their goal is to prove to the people of Cover City that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.

It was this fact that made the movie so utterly likable. The eye-catching cinematography combined with the underlying message of self-love led me to feel a range of emotions. I laughed with Lucy and Willow as they sang their hearts out to Dolly Parton. I cried as Willow struggled to deal with a world without her. I beamed as Willow began to find her own beauty as she connected with former acquaintances of Lucy.

Although the small Texas town of Clover City is not a very interesting place to look at, the aerial views of country roads, as well as the spectacularly scored soundtrack, made for a very enjoyable film experience.

For me, though, the best part of the film was its different take on the idea of a “makeover.” Traditionally, films usually play out like this: the girl feels self-conscious, the girl loses weight and puts on makeup, the girl feels better about herself. This idea that one must change themselves to find confidence has always been something that has disturbed me. It has left me asking myself this haunting question: Why are we showing girls that the only way to feel better is to change themselves?

Dumplin’ was the exact opposite of this. After she entered the talent show, Willowdean became confident after learning magic, singing her heart out to a Dolly Parton single on stage, and regaining her connection with her mother. It was not a transformation of the body, but more a transformation of the soul. This, for me, was the best transformation of all.

The somewhat mediocre and predictable plot was masked by the amazing casting choices made by director Anne Fletcher. Willowdean’s character, portrayed by Danielle MacDonald, was a perfect match. Her pageant show friend group was made up of Hannah, played by Bex Taylor-Claus, and Millie, played by Maddie Baillio. This group was comprised of a goth (Hannah) and a shy, religious singer (Millie). All of the cast members seemed to fit their roles quite well, which gave the viewer a sense that their acting was flawless. The diversity of interests made for a multitude of interesting interactions and created relatable situations for all types of people.

The script, though, was a different story. Although the dialect was accurate for those of southern residency, the overall word choice was incredibly bland. Conversations seemed to lack depth and character, causing me to quickly lose interest in what they were saying. Because that this movie is adapted from a book, this was surprising to me.

In the end, however, Dumplin’ is a feel-good movie that touches on new, more modern ways to find yourself and regain self-confidence. While the foreseeable plot and lackluster dialogue may become a bore, the cinematography and casting will more than make up for it.

Be forewarned, though, if you are prone to movie crying such as I am, you might want to get your tissues ready.