When Willowdean (Danielle Macdonald), the plus-sized daughter of beauty pageant extraordinaire and ex-pageant queen Rosie Dickinson (Jennifer Aniston) decides to enroll in this year’s Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pagent, we follow her on a journey of self-acceptance and confidence tied up in a huge Texas bow of Dolly Parton music. With themes of loss and romance, this film will put you in your feels while also deeply ingraining important messages that I have never been exposed to in film prior to Dumplin’. TV shows and films that I was exposed to growing up such as Toddlers & Tiarasmade me believe in the toxic femininity that can come with competing for standardized beauty. While toxic femininity is not as talked about as its masculine counterpart, I think it is essential to recognize where women fall flat in uplifting each other by setting negative beauty standards in settings such as beauty pageants. Size, race, sexuality, and gender expectations are all general factors that pageants consider without meaning to be “un-feminist.” Dumplin’ breaks down these expectations and gives us lovable characters to follow on a journey towards self-acceptance.
Willowdean also referred to as “Dumplin’” by her mother, has always been a bigger girl and been made to feel lesser than for it; not only by mean boys at school, but also by her pageant queen mother. After losing her Aunt Lucy (Hillary Begley) that made her feel like she was enough regardless of her size, Willowdean began to stop believing in herself. With small flirtatious interactions with her cute co-worker Bo (Luke Benward) and watching her best friend Ellen (Odeya Rush) fall in love, Willowdean doesn’t seem to think she deserves romance simply because of her size. As women, I think we have all been there; thinking we weren’t “enough” for one reason or another. The relationships Willowdean has in this film are genuine and prove that standardized beauty isn’t the reason for the connections we make, really ever. There are small and specific moments throughout the film that outline the struggle of being a larger woman including the moment when Bo asks Willowdean to watch a meteor shower and they kiss. Bo touches the small of Willowdean’s back which makes her completely uncomfortable and she leaves abruptly. We know that Bo didn’t care about her size, but for Willowdean this was an area of insecurity for her and it’s so hard for women to communicate this to men, especially when they are smaller than us. Moments like this that really understand the intricate struggles of the plus-sized community are what make this film so hard-hitting for me.
Danielle Macdonald’s performance opposite Jennifer Aniston was truly filled with tension and small idiosyncrasies that exist between so many mothers and daughters. While both characters resent each other in small ways, these two actors made this relationship feel raw and loving on a deep and messy level that can only exist between a single mother and her daughter. While a lot of audiences watched this film to see Jennifer Aniston in a Dolly Parton movie, I think that she was only one piece of the puzzle that made this film so great. The ensemble cast of the pageant girls really brought the message of acceptance to the table while Rosie didn’t figure out how to accept her own daughter for who she is until after she successfully performs in the pageant.
When Willowdean finds a flyer for a bar that her Aunt Lucy would go to, she takes Millie (Maddie Baillio) and Hannah (Bex Taylor-Klaus) to go find inspiration for their acts in the pageant. The best part, in my opinion, about this film is the incorporation of Drag Queens in the story through Willowdean’s Aunt Lucy and her past. Ru Paul’s Drag Race Season 7 and All-Stars 2 star Ginger Minj takes Willowdean and the other pageant “newbies” under her wing and teaches them how to walk, talk, and act on stage through the power and inspiration of the straightest queer icon Dolly Parton. The imagery of three young women who had never seen a Drag Queen before and finding confidence and inspiration for self-love and acceptance is so special, given the conservative circumstances, these women were raised in. If these men can find the confidence to perform in drag, these young women will be able to strut in a local pageant without shame and with more confidence because of the drag queens who helped them along the way.
Acceptance is easy with perspective and empathy. Self-love and acceptance are sometimes harder but so much more important. Willowdean performs in the pageant at the end of the film to hopefully find acceptance from her mother, but she finds something even better on the way. She performs for herself and not for anyone else. I think these messages and the way they are presented in this small-town in Texas are increasingly more important as the internet/ social media becomes more and more critical and judgemental every day. Love yourself today and every day because as Ru Paul always says: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love someone else?”
Incluvie Score: 4
Movie Score: 4.5
Originally posted by Allie Posner on 1/29/2021 Movie Review