“Dumplin’” is worth watching, but doesn’t do the book justice

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“Dumplin’” is worth watching, but doesn’t do the book justice


Updated "Dumplin'" book cover for the movie tie in edition. Photo courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers.

Updated "Dumplin'" book cover for the movie tie in edition. Photo courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers.

Updated "Dumplin'" book cover for the movie tie in edition. Photo courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers.

Melissa Ellin, Editor in Chief

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On Fri. Dec. 7, Netflix Released its latest Original, “Dumplin’,” based on the 2015 Julie Murphy book of the same name. Netflix categorizes the movie under coming-of-age and family relationship, but the best way I can describe it is a Dolly Parton filled, body empowerment coming-of-age story with a hint of romance.

“Dumplin’” chronicles a few months in the life of one Willowdean (Will) Dickson (Danielle MacDonald), a “self-proclaimed fat girl,” as she enters the Miss Bluebonnet Pageant in her Texas town to spite her mom, a former Miss Bluebonnet winner, and prove that “every body is a swimsuit body.”

From the title, you’ve probably gathered that I’m one of those people–the kind that insists on reading the book before the movie, and always thinks the book is better–but I can still enjoy a movie regardless of how good the book was. With that in mind, let’s begin.

We’ll start with Will herself. MacDonald portrayed Will’s internal conflicts (about her weight and the pageant) extremely well, but I do have to say that I wish she had been a bit more confident. In the book–yes, I know this is annoying but get used to it, or better yet, read the book!–Will was fierce. She had her insecurities, like any normal female, but she wasn’t quite as nervous and jittery as the Will in the movie. I was most upset when Will was testing her talent for the pageant and she let the crowd, especially her mom, get to her. The Will in the books never would have been so timid, but overall, MacDonald did a really good job.

As for the rest of Will’s gang, I had mixed reviews. Odeya Rush as Ellen, Will’s best friend, was a smart casting decision. She truly brought the character to life, making the anger, sadness and happiness involved in her and Will’s relationship utterly real. When it comes to Millie, a plus-sized girl who joins Will’s crusade, (Maddie Baillio), I’m at a crossroads. I thought Baillio did a nice job demonstrating Millie’s persistent happiness, but there wasn’t any depth to her character–this was probably due to writing though. If “Puddin,’” the sequel to “Dumplin,’” which is all about Millie and Callie (Georgie Flores) gets the green light, I hope Baillio can handle being the star. Next, Callie, Ellen’s co-worker and wanna be best friend. Callie was a very minor character in this movie, and for that reason, there’s not much to say. What I can tell you is that Flores representation of Callie seem nice and innocent, exactly the opposite of who she should have been, so regardless acting, the character itself was off. Lastly, there’s Hannah (Bex Taylor-Klaus), another tag along in Will’s cause. Hannah was comical, but it’s important to note that she was a combination of the Hannah, a silent and angry lesbian, and Amanda, Millie’s sarcastic best friend from the books. The exemption of Amanda didn’t phase me too much, because Taylor-Klaus’s Hannah made up for it–when she tried to make her talent her, standing on stage, simply yelling about the patriarchy, I died.

When it came to Bo (Luke Benward), the love interest, and the noticeable absence of Mitch (an alternative love interest from the book), I was disappointed. I wish I could tell you that Bo met all my hopes, but alas, he didn’t. Bo was in about five scenes total and barely had any lines. Needless to say, his character development was lacking. I understand why the writers did this–they wanted to focus on body image and empowerment–but knowing that Bo and Will end up together–not a spoiler, just Hollywood–I wish we could have gotten to know him better. Since many of you didn’t read the book and are probably wondering who the heck this Mitch fellow is, I’ll make this brief. Mitch was a heavyset football player from the books who made a play for Will’s heart, and became an even bigger character in “Puddin.’” Similar to why Bo was barely in the movie, I can only assume Mitch was taken out to minimize the romance angle, and this movie survived, but again, if “Puddin’” happens, I have to wonder how he’ll be introduced.

Without further ado, we’ll discuss Rosie Dickson (Jennifer Aniston), Will’s mom. Aniston really tugged at my heartstrings with her artfully over the top rendition of Rosie. I won’t say much to avoid spoilers, but I think the movie, and specifically Rosie’s part, tied up loose ends in a heart wrenching and earnest way, which I actually enjoyed more than the book. I was worried a powerhouse actress like Aniston would detract from the rest of the movie, but she kept to Rosie’s character, having me laugh, yell and cry–not actually, but an emotional person would which is why I’ll say so–at all the right moments.

After the characters, the most notable part of the movie was the music. The soundtrack was almost entirely Dolly Parton, which is exactly how it should have been. Will’s obsession with Dolly is part of what makes “Dumplin’” what it is, and I think that the remixes of Dolly’s music helped the movie succeed. Will had to find herself, and Dolly helped her do this.

Ellen wearing the disastrous tank top. Photo courtesy of Netflix.

I don’t have much to say about the wardrobe. The movie was set in 2018, and although Texas is the South, it’s not like they dress differently than anyone else. The only real critique I have regards Ellen’s wardrobe. I understand that fashion has been backtracking in that what was all the rage in the 80’s and 90’s are popular again, but when Ellen wore a polo-style tank top, it felt out of touch with us young adults.

Additionally, the cinematography had its strengths and weaknesses. In the flashbacks to Will’s childhood, there was always a reddish hue over the screen which I like to think of as a tint of love, and, since most flashbacks take place in the room dedicated to Dolly, and involved people Will loved (Ellen and her Aunt Lucy), it worked out. Some of the transitions between scenes were rough. Specifically, during the actual pageant when there was a cut from mid-pageant to the end, there were sparkles that made their way down the screen, but I felt like I was watching a fourth grader’s iMovie production.

“Dumplin’” was a unique movie that successfully broke stereotypes regarding weight and diverged from the hackneyed loser-becomes-popular plot line. Plus, it’s totally quotable. It’s not a movie I will be forcing my friends to watch–yes, I have in fact done this–but it is one I would recommend you watch with your mom, or your gal pals. I know I wouldn’t mind a rewatch.

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