By Madeleine Raven, Theatre & Film, First Year
After the failures of Netflix originals like Sierra Burgess is a Loser (2018) and Insatiable (2018-), Dumplin’ is a body-positive, coming of age film, set against a backdrop of Texan pageantry and accompanied by the music of Dolly Parton. Frankly, it is a breath of fresh air.
Youtube / Netflix
The film does not take itself too seriously: the makeover scene does not involve the eponymously nicknamed Dumplin’, a.k.a. Willowdean (Danielle Macdonald), shedding pounds. Our heroine appears in a swimming costume within the first ten minutes of the film, and exists as a plus size, teenage girl without outwardly agonizing about her weight, thanks to the guidance of her aunt Lucy (Hilliary Begley).
It’s her mother, played by Jennifer Aniston, who is a former pageant winner and has been riding the wave of that victory her entire adult life, who makes offhand comments about Dumplin’. She seems to be the source of her daughter’s self-doubt. She even compares Willowdean to her aunt, who dies before the film starts, but who raised Willowdean to love Dolly Parton, and to love herself. Without Lucy, it seems that Willowdean is more vulnerable to her mother’s comments, and as most women know, it’s incredibly easy for our mothers to push our buttons.
Photo Courtesy of Netflix
At first, I was somewhat worried that the other teenage girls in the film would become punchlines in the narrative. Luckily, I was proved wrong. Millie (Maddie Baillio), another plus sized girl, joins the pageant and comes runner up, whereas Willowdean is disqualified. Willowdean wouldn’t have this any other way, because she’s making a statement, but it is clear that Millie is just as deserving of the title of beauty queen as any of the other, smaller girls onstage.
Hannah (Bex Taylor-Klaus), the non-binary, feminist teenager who also joins their mini squad, adds an extra dynamic, and the way in which her friends love and accept her is a credit to the writing of the character beyond the hollow excuse for jokes.
#MondayMuse: The lovely ladies in #Dumplin. This film is packed w/messages for women about family, body positivity & loving yourself just the way you are. Written and directed by women, and co-produced by my friend #JenAniston. Did I mention the soundtrack is by @DollyParton!? pic.twitter.com/3AFUl5jST7— Reese Witherspoon (@RWitherspoon) December 17, 2018
Willowdean’s answer to the world’s - and her mother’s - reaction to her weight is not to lose it, as her mother actually did in order to win the 1991 pageant, but to create a space where plus sized women can be celebrated in the way they deserve to be.
Her weight is not the sole focus of Dumplin’, however, and it is not treated as a problem to be solved. The film also includes a teenage romance, and it was wonderful to see a romance which doesn’t rely on Willowdean losing weight in order to be ‘good enough’ for Bo (Luke Benward), who is a line cook at the diner where she works.
The tension between Willowdean and the people in her life do, ultimately, come back to her weight, but this only goes to show how issues with body image reach into every aspect of our lives. It’s a coming of age film, but specifically for plus sized women, because if you think being a teenager was hard, imagine being shamed for your body in every aspect of your life on top of that.
Photo Courtesy of Netflix
Dumplin’ is a wonderful example of representation in today’s world, which comes from employing a diverse community of writers and filmmakers, and allowing plus size women’s stories to go beyond that of the sidekick or best friend, but as beautiful human beings in their own right.
Dumplin' is streaming now on Netflix.
Featured Image Credit: Netflix / Dumplin'
Do you think Dumplin' is the start of a more body inclusive film industry?