A couple of days ago Netflix dropped a new original movie, one that my family has been eagerly anticipating since the official trailer dropped – Dumplin’. Based on the book by Julie Murphy, which I devoured the year it was released, it’s the story of Willowdean Dickson, a small-town girl whose body type doesn’t fit in with her pageant mom’s ideals of feminine beauty.
A former beauty queen herself, Willowdean’s mother (played with warmth and humour by Jennifer Aniston) now runs the local pageant, Miss Teen Bluebonnet. Willowdean was closer to her bubbly late aunt Lucy than her distant and oblivious mom, and the two have an understandably fraught relationship. The movie’s conflict kicks off when Willowdean, encouraged by her best friend Ellen, decides to enter this year’s pageant, much to her mother’s horror. Partly to make a point, partly (I think) just to poke at her mom, with perhaps the classic teen subconscious hope of sparking some kind of reaction even if it’s bad.
Willowdean is joined and supported in this by Ellen, the impossibly positive Millie, and semi-goth non-gender-conforming Hannah. (Side note: Hannah is played by Bex Taylor-Klaus, possibly our daughter’s favourite actor; another big reason we were all stoked for this movie.)
Beauty pageants are an easy target for satire, but those in the audience who are ardent fans of pageants need never fear. The film avoids the obvious pot-shots at the competitive pageant realm, while quietly making a point about self-confidence and body positivity.
Of course you know there’s going to be the inevitable makeover sequence, and this movie does not disappoint! The quartet of misfits needs help with their pageant-ready walks, looks, and performance, and thanks to a clue left for WIllowdean by her beloved late aunt, they get the full package in one place: the local drag bar.
Admittedly, while the scenes at the drag bar are vastly entertaining, the representation aspect of this movie is a little on the lighter side, unless you count her smash-the-patriarchy non-dress-wearing friend Hannah; but since she doesn’t actually verbally identify as anything other than rebellious, I don’t think you can. But I will give the film solid props for portraying drag in a positive way, not just as entertainment, but as a crucial form of identity and place of community for queer folks.
There is of course a boy, Willowdean’s romantic interest; but the core plot of the movie revolves around the relationship between Willowdean and her mother Rosie. I love that this is a teen movie in which the parent-child bond is just as important as the best friend and the first love.
We watched this movie in one sitting as a family not once but twice. I’d highly recommend it for family-friendly LGBTQ positive entertainment… and for a just plain good time.