Up next in a Netflix new installment of ‘the coming of age genre with potentially problematic messages that are overlooked by majority of the public’, is Dumplin’.
We’ve seen the glorifying of jealous, possessive boyfriends and some questionable consent scenes in recent entries to the category, however beauty pageant-centred Dumplin’ takes the sash for somehow playing to every trope possible whilst also managing to be refreshingly offensive in its message.
Dumplin’ tells the story of Willowdean (Danielle Macdonald), a ‘fat’ Dolly Parton-obsessed teen whose mother, played by Jennifer Aniston, is a former beauty pageant queen heavily involved in the Miss Teen Bluebonnet Pageant. Willowdean, or Will as we come to know her, finds her late ‘fat’ aunt’s partially completed pageant application and decides to honour her by entering the pageant herself.
‘Aw, what a sweet, if slightly overplayed cliché’, you may find yourself thinking. But alas, Dumplin’ is not the classic tale of the ‘ugly’ girl who enters the pageant and miraculously wins, proving beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. In fact, though painfully predictable, a plot where the punchline is ‘beauty is only skin deep’ would’ve been more forgivable than where the movie actually goes.
Will persuades her mother to let her sign up in what could be considered an inspiring, though way off the bat, speech about every girl being worthy. But, from here it is all downhill. She proceeds to fat-shame a fellow contestant who wants nothing but to compete and make friends and even fights with her best friend for learning a dance, even going so far as accusing her of contributing to the ‘story that hates fat people’.
The irony is bigger than Dolly’s hair. While the secondary characters in the movie, even favourite-to-win Becca, played by Disney alum Dove Cameron, are all nothing but accepting of each other, the only one who is unable to see past appearances is Will herself. She eventually catches up to everyone else in the climax of the movie with the help of some loving drag queens she met briefly in a bar under the Dolly Parton soundtrack which seeks to reiterate, as though Jennifer Aniston’s attempt at a Texas accent isn’t painful enough, the movie’s country location.
Dumplin’ is essentially the tale of a shallow teenager hell, bent on ruining something which brings her grieving mother a purpose outside of her mundane job and struggling financial situation.
Throw in a love story B plot, with less on-screen chemistry than the leads in 50 Shades, which adds absolutely nothing to the story so much so that you find yourself forgetting about it until the end. The eye-roll inducing realisation that ‘getting the guy’ was what Dumplin’ was building towards rather the self-acceptance and female empowerment it (very briefly) saw in the pageant crowning scene would be annoying if it was not almost immediately followed by (yes, you guessed it) a Dolly Parton musical number which signified the end to an excruciating hour and fifty minutes.
While consistent performances from the likes of Jennifer Aniston and Maddie Baillio redeem the movie in the talent portion of the evening, Dumplin’ will leave you feeling almost relieved that Netflix dished out $100 million on Friends rather than funding projects like this in the future. And even if you are sick of hearing “we were on a break” at least Aniston doesn’t say so with her southern drawl.