Dolly Parton obsessed Willowdean Dixon (Danielle Macdonald) comes from a small pagent obsessed town in Texas. And no one is more obsessed than Willowdean’s mother, Rosie (Jennifer Aniston) a former Miss Bluebonnet and current pagent director. Willowdean and Rosie have never quite gotten each other. Willowdean thinks pageants are pointless and Rosie feels disconnected from her overweight daughter.
Following the loss of her aunt and greatest supporter, Lucy (Hillary Begley), Willowdean is at loose ends, struggling to find her place in the world. While going through Lucy’s things, she finds an application for the Bluebonnet Pageant that Lucy never turned in. In an act of defiance Willowdean convinces her best friend, Ellen (Odeya Rush) to enter the pageant and protest its superficiality.
Soon the pageant is impacting every part of Willowdean and Rosie’s lives. Rosie doesn’t know whether to be proud or embarrassed and tensions are higher than ever. Willowdean is shocked that Ellen seems to actually be enjoying participating, which leads her to some new friends who feel just as disconnected from the world as she does. She also discovers a whole side of Lucy’s life she never knew existed, one which will help her find herself.
While it might seem like it from the description, Dumplin’ is not a traditional makeover movie. Willowdean’s transformation is more of an emotional revelation than a physical one. She learns to see the power inside herself rather than gaining power from changing how she looks. It is also a look into mother-daughter relationships, grief, female friendships and what it means to live life to the fullest.
Macdonald does a great job at making Willowdean believable and vulnerable and Aniston’s role as a woman clinging onto a past that makes her life meaningful is perfect for her. I loved seeing Harold Perrineau back in drag, playing Willowdean’s mentor and as a Drag Race fan having Ginger Minj in the mix made me smile and provided some great comic relief.
Dumplin’ is a charming, feel-good movie that manages to avoid becoming to saccharine and anyone who has ever felt a bit like they didn’t quite fit in will be able to identify with it. One of Netflix’ better originals.