MOVIE OF THE WEEK December 14, 2018: DUMPLIN’

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motw logo 1-35Set to a peppy, empowering soundtrack of Dolly Parton hits, director Anne Fletcher’s Dumplin’ is an appealing coming-of-age dramedy about a plus-sized teen who confronts stereotypes — and her own rocky relationship with her beauty queen mother — head-on by entering a small-town Texas pageant. Willowdean “Will” Dickson (Danielle Macdonald) loves her mom, Rosie (Jennifer Aniston), but they couldn’t be more different.

Rosie cares immensely about appearances and reveres the traditions of the Miss Teen Bluebonnet pageant, while Will rolls her eyes at all of that stuff. And she’d much rather hang out with her best friend, Ellen (Odeya Rush), and her Dolly-worshipping Aunt Lucy (Hilliary Begley). But after Lucy passes away, Will and Rosie are left without a buffer — and their differences become even more apparent.

In a fit of rebellion, Will — who can’t stand that Rosie still calls her by the childhood nickname Dumplin’ decides to compete in the pageant as a way of undermining the ideals that Rosie holds so dear. But as the day of the pageant draws closer, Will finds herself more invested than she expected, while Rosie learns to look at things — including and especially her daughter — in a new way. Toss in a sweet romantic subplot and strong themes about the power of friendship and self esteem, and you have a fun pick that’s perfect to watch with teens (or anyone who loves Dolly Parton).

Working from Kristin Hahn’s script (adapted from Julie Murphy’s YA book), Fletcher directs Dumplin’ with empathy and humor. Macdonald and Aniston deliver memorable performances. It’s nice to see Aniston playing a softer, more sympathetic character than she often does, and Macdonald is pitch perfect as Will. Despite some moments of self-doubt, Will mostly likes who she is, and she doesn’t apologize for the things that make her different. She’s real and relatable, which makes her a pleasure to root for. — Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW’s comments:

Nell Minow: There’s a makeover montage in “Dumplin’,” and it’s a lulu. It is overseen by drag queens who specialize in doing Dolly Parton, and it doesn’t get any more extra than that. Like so much in this film, this makeover comes with a refreshingly smart, funny, wise, and warmhearted twist. It is more about Willowdean’s finding a way to be herself on purpose, her own way of being special, than about proving anything at the pageant. Like Ms. Parton herself, this film relishes the sequins and show, but charms us with its heart.

Marilyn Ferdinand: What could be worse than walking around in a fat body in a culture that reveres thin? Dumplin’ believes that accepting society’s standards is, and by the end of this feel-good movie from director Anne Fletcher, you’ll agree. Willowdean (Danielle Macdonald) is the plus-size daughter of a former beauty pageant winner (Jennifer Aniston) and current organizer of the Miss Teen Bluebonnet pageant in their Texas home town. Willowdean gained self-esteem from her overweight aunt, but when her aunt dies, she loses her sense of self under the scrutiny of her thin mother, whose nickname for her is, unflatteringly, “Dumplin’.” Willowdean’s protest entry into the Bluebonnet pageant with two other outcasts from social norms takes us on a thoroughly entertaining ride to the inevitable triumph of acceptance and self-confidence throughout the community. The ensemble cast’s infectious enjoyment, especially Maddie Baillio as another big girl who sincerely dreams of winning the pageant, has us cheering them on to the happy ending they all deserve.

Sandie Angulo Chen: I wish that director Anne Flecther’s Dumplin’, based on award-winning young-adult author Julie Murphy’s 2015 coming-of-age story, had existed when I was a teen. Not only is fabulous and feminist protagonist Willowdean unapologetically plus-sized, but the movie isn’t solely based on romance. It’s about complicated mother-daughter relationships, body acceptance, unconditional friendship, grief, and Dolly Parton. Danielle Macdonald is terrific as Willowdean, and Jennifer Aniston is spot-on as her mother, a former beauty pageant queen who’s still heavily involved in the pageant world. Yes, there’s romance too, courtesy of Willowdean’s co-worker Bo (Luke Benward), but their blossoming feelings are not the central point of the movie. When Willowdean decides to enter her mother’s pageant as a tribute to her beloved and recently deceased Aunt Lucy (who was also a larger woman), it starts out as a protest, but it eventually turns into a transformational experience. Parton’s greatest hits and even an original song, The Girl in the Movies, perfectly fill out the soundtrack. While it’s not a perfect film, Dumplin’ is a feel-good delight, and it makes for a wonderful mother-daughter movie.

MaryAnn Johanson:
Dumplin’ is far from a perfect movie, but one of the ways in which it is amazing is that it features more than one girl who is fat. (Yes, I’m using the word ‘fat’, not a euphemism like ‘curvy’ or ‘plus-sized.’ It’s merely a descriptive word like ‘tall’ or ‘blonde,’ and there’s nothing shameful about it.) We have not only the incredible Willowdean — Danielle Macdonald is simply delightful as the snarky, defiant protagonist — but also sweet, kind Millie, who is nothing like Willowdean. (Millie also wants to genuinely compete in the beauty, not protest it. She is a call not to throw away ideals of beauty but to expand them, to consider fat people beautiful, too.) Why — Dumplin’ seems to suggest — it’s almost as if fat people aren’t only actually real people, just like thin people, but that fat people aren’t even all alike! As if fat people, even fat girls and women, are ‘also’ authentic human beings! Even though they’re fat! This shouldn’t feel radical, but it is. Read full review.

Nikki Baughan: With the utterly charming Dumplin’, director Anne Fletcher puts an affectionate spin on the traditional coming-of-age story by focusing on the importance of inner strength rather than the toxicity of external pressures. In adapting the novel by Julie Murphy, screenwriter Kristin Hahn has created an energetic, clear-eyed narrative which manages the difficult feat of highlighting the traumas of adolescence without becoming preachy or dismissive. And so the focus is firmly on protagonist Willowdean (a brilliantly down to earth Danielle Macdonald), who decides to enter the local beauty pageant, despite not confirming to the ideal beauty queen image. And while she may suffer the occasional taunts of others, these fade into the background; the real battle she is fighting is with her own self confidence – or lack of it. Of course, the feelgood factor is strong here – helped immensely by a group of drag queens, a wonderful performance from Jennifer Anniston as Willowdean’s self-obsessed mother and a rousing Dolly Parton soundtrack – but the observations are sharp and the lessons about self-love and the importance of individualism hit their mark. Essential viewing for anyone struggling to feel comfortable in their own skin.

Anne Brodie: Danielle Macdonald, who won our hearts in the winning Patti Cake$ proves her screen appeal once again in the Jennifer Aniston produced, Dolly Parton decorated Dumplin’ as a plus-sized teen who revolts against the status quo – and her mother (Aniston) in one move. Macdonald is Willowdean a girl who’s fed up with bullying schoolmates and especially the skinny girls vying for the beauty queen title. Her mother who runs the Miss Teen Bluebonnet pageant barely conceals her disappointment that her daughter is big. Dumplin’ and a couple of friends, also on the fringes of high school society, decide to enter the pageant and bring an end to the elitism. With the help of local drag queens, the girls get ready for their moments, when the game changes. Its’s a feel good story about isolated teens finding their voices, and Dolly Parton provides inspiration in more ways than one. But it’s set in a world most of us wouldn’t recognize today, a rural Texas world that firmly adheres to values of a system based on white privilege and worn out “isms”. Dumplin’ has its heart in the right place, but seems lost in the mists of time.

Kristen Page Kirby I cannot remember the last time I was so pleasantly surprised by a movie as I was by Dumplin’. Often funny, often heart-wrenching, always interesting, it is a joy to watch. Willowdean is a protagonist – not a heroine – who complains of being stereotyped at the same time she pigeonholes others. Rosie, her mother, could have simply been a fat-shaming figure of cruelty, but instead is nuanced and complicated in her own right (like all mothers are). Every character, even the ones who could have been written off as vapid nothings, has layers and levels. In the end, Willowdean is a surprise to everyone – just like Dumplin’.

Jennifer Merin Filmmaker Anne Fletcher’s Dumplin’ is a femme-centric coming of age family dramady in which a plus size teenage daughter (Daneille Macdonald) and her beauty queen mother (Jennifer Aniston) confront self-esteem issues and stereotypical thinking — including their own — about plus size girls. Kristin Hahn’s screenplay, based on Julie Murphy’s novel, is infused with humor, but not at the expense of the lead characters, nor at that of a supporting ensemble that looks like a who’s who of diversity. The performances are engaging. The denouement is upbeat. The message is positive. There’s a lot to appreciate in Dumplin’.

Elizabeth Whittemore Dumplin’ might appear to be cliche on the surface but do not be fooled by the Hallmark-esque trailer. This film explores much more meaningful themes about self-awareness and acceptance. With a soundtrack supplied by the one and only Dolly Parton, Dumplin’ delves into mother-daughter dynamics, body positive activism, and loyalty. Jennifer Aniston has some truly lovely moments in a film that will surely play well over the holidays. Our leading lady, Danielle MacDonald, experiences the highs and lows of adolescence on a literal stage not normally tailored to her physical appearance. But that is only one of the aspects that makes the film so powerful. Its message of bravery and uniqueness will surpass your expectations and serves up a fiercely enjoyable film.

Loren King Light and banal but with a positive message for young audiences, Dumplin’ is perfectly suited to family viewing on Netflix where it’s headed. Danielle Macdonald is the likable star, playing Willowdean, a plus-size Texas teen who inherited her positive self image and her love for Dolly Parton from her aunt Lucy (Hilliary Begley). The feisty Lucy raised Willowdean because her single mother, a former beauty queen (Jennifer Aniston), was busy working and running the annual local teen pageant. After Lucy dies, a bereft Willowdean, who’s called Dumplin’ by her mom, decides to celebrate her aunt’s nonconformist ways by entering the Miss Teen Bluebonnet pageant. Two other outcast girls soon join in, along with Dumplin’s longtime best friend. If small town beauty pageants are ripe for satire, you won’t find that or any realistic conflict here; even the handsome boy who works alongside Willowdean at the local fast food joint flirts with her honorably. Dumplin’ is generic sitcom predictable, directed serviceably but without flair by Anne Fletcher. Even the drag queens from the local bar who come to the rescue with Dolly Parton-inspired wigs and moves (as if) can’t inject edge or originality into this lame affair. Pre-teens who liked Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, say, may enjoy the message about girls’ friendships and positive body image. But these good intentions are wrapped in such an uninspiring package that even Parton’s songs can’t liven it up.

Cate Marquis Dolly Parton fans will be pleased with Dumplin’, a coming-of-age tale of a plus-sized teen daughter of a small-town Texas beauty pageant queen. Too busy with beauty pageants – first as a winning contestant then as an organizer -the girl loves her Aunt Lucy, the likewise-plump woman who raised her, Dolly Parton and her best friend Ellen (Odeya Rush). When her beloved aunt dies, teenager Willowdean’s (Danielle Macdonald) resentment of her often-absent mom (Jennifer Aniston) boils to the surface, something that is not helped by her mother calling her by a hated nickname, Dumplin’. Smart and strong-willed, Will hits on the perfect revenge – she plans to enter the beauty pageant her mother runs as a protest, hoping to bring it crashing down. However, the plan quickly starts to unravel with her friend Ellen signs up as a contestant too. Aniston produced as well as appearing in Anne Fletcher’s Southern-fried family dramedy, which is sprinkled with Dolly Parton songs, drag queens, Southern small town stand-bys, a dash of romance, a bit of silliness and a be-true-to-yourself message. Macdonald is good in the lead role, both savvy and sweet by turns, but the comedy portions often seems forced and the story follows a familiar path. Those who can’t get enough of Dolly Parton, Southern small town tropes or beauty pageants may find enough warm-hearted sweetness to satisfy.


Title: Dumplin’

Directors: Anne Fletcher

Release Date: December 7, 2018

Running Time: 110 minutes

Language: English

Screenwriter: Kristin Hahn (screenplay by), Julie Murphy (novel)

Distribution Company: Netflix


Official Website

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Nikki Baughan, Anne Brodie, Betsy Bozdech, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Esther Iverem, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna, Jeanne Wolf

Previous #MOTW Selections

Other Movies Opening This Week

Edited by Jennifer Merin

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).