Dumplin’ is a beautiful ode to Dolly Parton and an example of how to handle having a full-figured woman as lead without a comedy filter or being overly dramatic.
|Written By||Kristin Hahn|
|Good If You Like||Empowering films
Films Which Have Full Figured Women As Happy, Loved, and Accomplished
Films That Focus on Mother/ Daughter Relationships
Movies That Have Supporting Friendships Between Women
|Lee (Rhea)||Harold Perrineau|
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Dumplin‘s Plot (Ending on 2nd Page)
For most of Willowdean’s life, it wasn’t her mother, Rosie, raising her but her aunt Lucy. Rosie, to help pay for the house, took advantage of her pageantry experience to coach, hem, host, and take advantage of all the jobs the pageantry world offered her. Lucy? Well, alongside taking care of Willowdean, she also did sewing and alterations. However, sometime in Willowdean’s late teen years, Lucy dies. The exact cause isn’t said but with Lucy being a big girl, it is hinted the usual suspect took her away from Rosie and Willowdean. Thus leaving Willowdean with a mother she does know, but who she has a strained relationship with.
That is until, in honor of her aunt Lucy, a fierce woman who, for some reason, didn’t do pageantry like her sister, Willowdean decides to enter her mom’s Miss Bluebonnet pageant. A task she takes on with her best friend Elle, who Lucy helped her meet, an eccentric girl named Hannah, and a quiet girl named Mille who, inspired by Willowdean, enters and takes the competition seriously. Especially since it was her dream, since she was 8, to be in a pageant.
Leaving you to wonder, before and after the winners are called, how will the competition change these girls, their relationships, and did their statements start the revolution they hoped for?
Question(s) Left Unanswered
- Did they mention Willowdean’s daddy once?
- How Willowdean learn to walk in heels so quickly?
An Ode To Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton is just a name you have to know. Whether it is her look, personality, her music, one of these things makes it so, by the time you are an adult, even if you don’t listen to country music, you have to know who she is. However, knowing who someone is and fully appreciating them are two separate things. This movie is like one huge love letter to Dolly Parton. How her lyrics, her attitude towards life, her being, it inspires people in ways she is likely aware of, but can’t fully know.
I mean, take Lucy, Willowdean, and Lee (Rhea). These three are presented as outcasts. People who, either before or during the film, were someone without confidence. Yet, this blonde woman who knew who she was, and wasn’t afraid to share it with the world, she gave them an example. She made it seem possible to be who you are despite what others may say – be it negative or positive.
There Weren’t Made To Be a Special Snowflake
Which makes the fact Willowdean wasn’t, as many movies like this do, a special snowflake. I mean that in a few ways. First and foremost, she wasn’t the sole big girl in the whole movie. We had Lucy, Millie, and one of the drag queens. Also, through Willowdean signing up for the pageant, we’re reminded how you don’t have to be some kind of celebrity to be inspiring and make a difference. You don’t even have to be a social justice warrior. Sometimes, you just being you, and firm in who that is, that’s all it takes.
Willowdean Was Flawed, But Not In a Comedic Way
One of the major issues with how full figured women are made to be nowadays, is their flaws usually are paired with something comedic. Either they put themselves in funny situations or they are the funny one. This is used as an out for their bad behavior or as the means to humanize them. With Willowdean, her flaws is that she is so into her own insecurities that she can’t see others. I’d even argue she projects her insecurities onto others in terms of how they think of her.
Willowdean and Rosie’s Relationship
Take her relationship with her mom, Rosie, for example. Willowdean is so convinced her mom is ashamed despite the fact, during one scene, when someone mistakes Elle for Rosie’s daughter than Willowdean, without a hint of shame or hesitation, she corrects the woman. Yet, at the same time, you get it. Rosie wasn’t around much growing up, didn’t push Willowdean to do pageants, even just to bond, and their relationship is so strained that the one thing they shared, Lucy, they can’t discuss. Even with it being more than 6 months since her passing.
Yet, it is shown the distance is both ways. Rosie may have been a bit too much into pageants but we’re reminded that is her bread and butter. Mind you, not in such a way that there is this idea all she knows is to look beautiful, say a few words, and wave. We’re shown all the work it takes to get a pageant going from dieting choices, sewing, dealing with last minute changes, and the stress that puts on a person. Something Willowdean never thought of so, in her judgmental way, she has seemingly looked down on what her mom does.
But, once she is in it, she realizes the work it takes and with Willowdean finally gripping the olive branch Rosie might have been holding out – forever – they seem to finally connect.
It Has A Message But Didn’t Beat It Into The Ground
While I, like many, long for the day when it won’t be a big deal what the actor looks like, as long as they have that something which keeps you engaged, we’re not at that point yet. So, until then, we are going to get media indoctrination – in a good way. However, one thing you have to appreciate about Dumplin’ is that its feminist and body positive messaging isn’t heavy-handed. You’re made aware of it through Elle and Willowdean’s plans for the pageant, and a statement they make during the swimsuit section. However, while Hannah is a little over the top, most of the time the film is subtle. The kind which makes you think, “This is bull****” rather than the actors repeatedly be in situations and call something bull****.
Willowdean and Bo Didn’t Seem Like Something To Make A Point But Be Very Real
After the awkwardness of Sierra Burgess is a Loser, there came a need to question how would Willowdean and Bo play out? Would Bo be treated as Netflix’s latest heartthrob who seemingly was made more so to craft the actor’s brand than play a convincing love interest? Might they decide to make it feel like a gender flip of what we’re used to seeing? You know, big dude with a woman who looked like she used to be top of the pyramid as a cheerleader?
Nope, this film doesn’t do that. For one, Bo doesn’t play a big role in the movie. He is Willowdean’s co-worker and makes his intentions clear, but doesn’t overexplain why he likes Willowdean. There are no big speeches about how cool he thinks she is or anything like that. He just likes being around her, kissing her, and thinks she is pretty. Simple as that and OH MY GOD I LOVED IT!
Because that is the problem with a lot of films and shows which have some eurocentric standard of beauty person with what some see as “other.” They always have to have a monologue about how they don’t care about this, love in spite of what society thinks, and it just comes off less romantic and more so “It gets better.” In terms of, if someone identifies with the person treated as “other,” you can find something like that too.
So Bo just being made into a guy who likes this girl he sees work hard, has good social skills, looks good in her uniform, and is fun to be around? That is superior to any eye roll worthy monologue that can ever be delivered. For with Bo, we get the thing everyone wants. The idea that you see and know what I am, what I look like, and aren’t necessarily trying to downplay it but simply love it all.
The Beauty of Female Friendship
One last thing, you have to love how, even when some of the friendships become strained in the movie, nothing over the top happens. There is no sabotage, cursing out, or rumors spread. Elle and Willowdean have a fight, they walk away and are silent for a bit until an apology comes up. Willowdean and the rest of the girls are a bit mean to Millie about her chances of winning, but they give a silent apology by still playing to win.
On The Fence
They Could Have Done More With the Drag Queens
Granted, this is not their movie and not their time to be front and center to tell their stories. However, while Lee does hint he wasn’t always as confident in himself as he is now, it’s hard to not feel like he, and the other girls, weren’t used to be a collective gay best friend character. You know, the one we hardly know but has such a profound effect on the life of our lead.
Though maybe I’m just looking for a problem where there isn’t one. I’ll admit it.
Overall: Positive (Worth Seeing) – Recommended | Netflix Original
I laughed, I cried, I’m tempted to buy a Dolly Parton greatest hits album, and we got a movie which knew where the line was. From what it seemed, Hahn saw how other productions stumbled with presenting the various messages we see in Dumplin’ and sidestepped every branch, banana peel, and got us safely, without much awkwardness, to the end. We truly got to see a real person, with insecurities, flaws, and all every actor says they want, without there being some kind of filter. There wasn’t a comedic filter to lighten things up or an overly dramatic one. We got an everyday person with an inspiring story which was just about paying it forward.
Leading to why the positive label, and recommendation. While there isn’t one sole way to tell a story, there are examples of what can be done, should be done, and what should be avoided. The people who worked on this seemingly did their homework and somehow found a balance most productions can’t maintain from the beginning to the end. So here is hoping, as this film is seen, others take note of how you can handle the various things this movie brought up without f****ing it up.
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