Willowdean Dickson (Danielle MacDonald), or Dumplin’, as her mother Rosie (Jennifer Aniston) likes to call her, spent most of her childhood with her Aunt Lucy (Hilliary Begley) whom she adored and idolised. From a young age Will was teased and taunted by other kids for being a bigger girl, and her mother didn’t make her life any easier by constantly pointing out her every "imperfection". But with the support of her best friend Ellen (Odeya Rush) and the self-confidence instilled in her by her now-deceased aunt, she became very good at shrugging off any hurtful words thrown at her.
In fact, to prove to her mother and the world that bigger girls like her belong in pageants just as much as slimmer girls – an idea she felt sure had never occurred to her mother before - Will enters the Teen Miss Bluebonnet pageant and unintentionally inspires other brave misfits. Soon, Millie, another plus-size girl from her school (Maddie Baillio) and Hannah, an outspoken tomboy (Bex Tayloy-Klaus), join Will's "revolution".
As the film unfolds and MacDonald builds on her performance, Will's vulnerable side and insecurities show through, and the same goes for a few other characters, which add complex layers to them and makes each of them feel more relatable.
Based on a young adult novel of the same title by Julie Murphy, what makes Dumplin' fresh and interesting is that it spends very little energy vilifying characters not a part of Will's "revolution". What this does, very effectively, is it brings to light that Will’s worst enemy might be herself.
Despite the body-positivity message of the film, which encourages the notion that what you look like shouldn't matter, there is still a fabulous attitude makeover scene to boost the girls' confidence. Though you can totally forgive the filmmakers because who wouldn't want to be made over by a group of Dolly Parton drag queens? There are also some unexpected twists to the typical "underdog joins a pageant" story that make the movie special.
While Dumplin' addresses some pretty heavy themes and is full of scenes that will make you tear up, the endearing cast and all-Parton soundtrack (which includes six songs the country music legend penned just for the movie) keep the overall spirit of the film fun and lighthearted.
There are many lessons to be learned from this inspiring coming-of-age film, some less obvious than others, but one that is clear as the rhinestones on Dolly Parton’s signature getup is a lesson in self-acceptance. As the singer once said, “Figure out what you are and do it on purpose.”