You might think that movie night in the B&S About Movies household means a never-ending barrage of the dead rising from the grave, slasher killers wiping out the teenage populations of small towns and rivers of blood. And for the most part, you’d be right. But then you need to remember that the B in B&S stands for Becca and she runs the TV set during the hours that normal people are awake. That means when it comes time to pick what we watched tonight, Dumplin’ won out. And as she said, “You’re going to bitch every single moment that this starts, but you’ll probably be crying and say that it’s nice and cute when it’s all over.” She’s always right.
Based on the novel by Julie Murphy (you can see her in a cameo near the end of the film and she’s recently written a book called Puddin’ that follows the story of the supporting cast of this story) and directed by Anne Fletcher (who also directed Hot Pursuit, a movie we saw as the second feature at least five times at the drive-in throughout the summer of 2015) from a script by Kristin Hahn (who in her youth lived with star Jennifer Aniston and has a production company with her), Dumplin’ hits home. The story of a teenage girl trying to understand how to fit in with a world she doesn’t fit into who loves Dolly Parton may seem like the exact opposite of something that would reach me, but what you don’t know is that I grew up in a small town with one country station that played nearly all day long playlists of Ms. Parton. And despite my collection of black shirts and a patch ridden jacket, I’ve proudly stood in the front row, singing out loud to every song at Dolly shows.
Willowdean Dickson (Danielle Macdonald) was raised primarily by her Aunt Lucy while her mother Rosie (Aniston) relives her beauty queen past as a semi-celebrity in their small Texas hometown.
After the sudden death of her aunt, Willowdean has to deal with pageant season, a time of the year that she finds ridiculous. She convinces her best friend and fellow Dolly fan Ellen Dryver (Odeya Rush, Goosebumps) to enter the Miss Teen Bluebonnet Pageant as a protest. Willowdean isn’t the same body shape and size as her mother, so she’s fiercely against the beauty contest and willing to defend others, like shy Millie Michalchuk, who ends up coming out of her shell. Joining them in their “protest in heels” is Hannah Perez (Bex Taylor-Klaus, Hell Fest, TV’s The Killing), whose short hair looks and love of metal are in sharp contrast to every other girl.
Miss Teen Bluebonnet will test Willowdean’s friendship with Ellen, as well as strengthen her love of her lost aunt by meeting many of her drag queen friends, including Harold Perrineau from TV’s Lost and Ru Paul’s Drag Race contestant Ginger Minj. Willowdean also learns that even the cutest guy in school, Bo, might be able to see through society’s views on beauty to see who she is inside.
Sure, Dumplin’ is sentimental and at times schmaltzy, but it’s also a well-made and at times, pretty amusing film. It was also nice to see Kathy Najimy in the film (her husband Dan Finnerty is also in the movie as beauty contest host Eugene Reed). And who doesn’t love hearing a soundtrack packed with Dolly tunes, including a new one that she wrote just for the movie?
To answer any questions, yes, I did get a bit teary-eyed by the end of the film. I’m going to have to watch hours and hours of Italian splatter and obscure slasher movies to get my street cred back now, huh?
You can watch this exclusively on Netflix.