Netflix’s Dumplin’ is the one gift we’ve been waiting for this holiday season, and we still don’t know if we’re worthy of it. Based on Julie Murphy’s YA novel, Dumplin’ brings home the glitz and glamour of the pageant world, and centers on the life of a insecure, rebellious teen named Willowdean Dickson. Although she feels deeply uncomfortable in her own body, Willowdean signs up for a beauty pageant hosted by her mother, Rosie. What starts off as an act of defiance soon turns into the most formative experience of Willowdean’s life.
Dumplin’ also features six new songs written by the one and only Dolly Parton. On top of that, Dolly’s song “Girl in the Movies,” which she co-wrote with Linda Perry, was recently nominated for a Golden Globe Award in the Best Original Song – Motion Picture category. Dumplin’ also features “Here I Am,” a song Dolly co-wrote and sings with Sia. Yes, even the Dumplin’ soundtrack is serving us more than we deserve.
So, if you loved Toddlers and Tiaras, think Netflix’s Insatiable is a cult classic in the making, or just so happen to know the legend that is Honey Boo Boo (or, what a “flipper” is), then you’re my kind of people! Here are the five reasons we’re lovin’ Netflix’s newest original movie Dumplin’.
1. Losin’ Lucy
In life, we all need an Aunt Lucy.
Willowdean “Will” Dickson (Danielle Macdonald) feels more of a kindred connection to her Aunt Lucy (Hillary Begley) than she does to her own mother Rosie (Jennifer Aniston), a former pageant queen. Aunt Lucy was a source of comfort for Will and showed her unconditional love. Not only did Aunt Lucy introduce Will to the music and every stitch of “standom” that comprises the world of Dolly Parton, but she also taught Will how to navigate the world she herself shied away from.
Later, Will stumbles upon an incomplete Miss Teen Blue Bonnet application that Aunt Lucy filled out for the same year Will’s mother, Rosie, won the coveted title. Will realizes that even her aunt — who exuded joy and confidence her entire life — had her own moments of insecurity and self-doubt. This discovery propels Will to not only apply for the pageant, but to bravely seek out her own voice instead of relying on the voice of another (i.e. her Aunt Lucy) to guide her through this world.
2. Will’s Way Or The Highway
Sometimes, you just need to sit down and listen.
Inspired to become Miss Teen Bluebonnet, Will sets out to make a statement about the world of “conventional” beauty that her pageant mom partakes in. So, Will thrusts herself into the pageant world with a rebellious spirit, ready to “stick it to the man.” The only problem is: Other young women feel the same way about the pageant.
As these fellow ostracized girls step forward wanting to renegotiate their sense of self-worth by participating in the pageant, Will realizes her voice and opinion on the subject of beauty’s many shapes and sizes isn’t the only one that counts. Some girls, like Millie (Maddie Baillio), genuinely want to win this title. But when Ellen (Odeya Rush), Will’s best friend and fellow Dolly stan, starts memorizing dances and making nice with the other “real” pageant girls, Will feels betrayed and insecure, allowing her insecurities to create snags in their friendship. Can Will get out of her own way and save her friendship with Ellen when this is all over?
3. Good Golly, Drag Dollys!
You can do anything with a little faith, trust, and drag dust.
When Will finds an advertisement for The Hideaway’s “Dolly Show” crammed in Aunt Lucy’s Dolly Parton scrapbook, she and a few of her fellow pageant misfits take a trip to visit the bar. To their surprise, they discover that this Dolly show is actually a drag show featuring many incarnations of Dolly Parton!
As Will’s heart flutters out of her chest courtesy of all the dazzling Dollys, she learns that many of these magnificent queens knew Aunt Lucy personally. On top of that, some of the drag Dollys are even willing to help the girls perfect their stage personas for the pageant. Apart from bestowing killer hair and makeup tips, the drag Dollys give the girls some wisdom we’d all be wise to subscribe to: In life, you can either fake it until you make it, or you can learn how to unapologetically own every bit of what God gave (or, didn’t give) you and step into the world just as you are (flaws included). With the help of Rhea Ranged (Harold Perrineau), who credits her drag career to Aunt Lucy, and Candee Disch — played by Ginger Minj from RuPaul’s Drag Race (Season 7) — the girls have all they need to take the pageant world by storm.
4. Better With Bo
In the famous words of RuPaul: If you can’t love yourself how the hell are you gonna love somebody else.
One of the most troubling but true to life aspects of Will is her inability to understand that others don’t see her the way she sees herself. When Bo (Luke Benward) tells Will he likes her, she doesn’t believe it — even after he makes out with her. Will becomes body conscious during their make out sesh, because Bo caresses her lower back. She feels inherently self-conscious and unworthy of physical connection because of the body she’s in. Will then decides to ghost Bo so that he can be with someone she feels is more “worthy” of his affection, basically handing him off to a rival pageant queen! Ugh.
It’s only after Will starts to understand herself through the pageant experience that she can finally receive Bo’s love and adoration. But real talk, more often than not, we are the ones who stand in the way of what we truly desire. The hope that Will can make things better with Bo and lean into the love she deserves is explored heavily in Dumplin’.
5. Rumbling With Rosie
There are pageant moms, and then there’s Rosie.
Will’s mom Rosie is pageant obsessed, and actively participates in ushering in new generations of pageant queens. Although Willowdean feels her mother wishes she was more like the other pageant girls, Rosie doesn’t see it that way and neither do we.
Rosie’s character isn’t two-dimensional so she never feels like the “bad guy” Will has made her out to be. Yes, Rosie offers Will salads or green shakes, but it never seems to come from a place of body shaming; it seems to come from Rosie’s heath conscious mindset. Rosie never once shies away from the pride she feels for her daughter, including the time when she has to correct another former pageant queen for mistaking slender Ellen for Will.
As Will becomes more invested in this pageant thing, she begins to understand her mother on a deeper level. Jennifer Aniston’s performance provides us with enough depth that we can feel Rosie’s anxiety from the minute she learns Will wants to be a pageant girl. Rosie fears Will’s decision to join the pageant comes from a place of mockery, and Rosie isn’t willing to let her daughter make fun of something she holds so close to her heart and has dedicated her life to. But can this tug-of-war between mother and daughter bring them closer together, or will it ultimately tear them apart?
You can watch Dumplin’ on Netflix now!
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