The movie's inspiration is overpowered by its heavy broth.
Dolly Parton provides the inspiration for the movie "Dumplin'" now streaming on Netflix. Her songs are used as the backdrop as our plus-size heroine discovers that size doesn't matter. Only in this film it kind of does.
Based on the book of the same name by Julie Murphy, the story follows Willowdean (Danielle Macdonald), a chunky high-schooler who has some internal fat-phobia issues which render her uninspired especially after her aunt Lucy, the only women who understands her, dies.
The two were avid Dolly Parton fans and often used the lyrics to her songs as affirmations in real life.
Willowdean, nicknamed Dumplin' by her pageant legend mother Rosie (Jennifer Aniston), can't seem to shake the blues after Lucy's death and every little criticism is only adding fuel to her defeated state, that is until she gets the bright idea to enter the annual beauty pageant as a form of protest. A few other offbeat students, including her best friend Ellen (Odeya Rush), are on board with the scheme and thus starts their quest to overthrow all that is superficial.
What is being marketed as a comedy, "Dumplin'" feels more like a downer. Movies of this type are often a little more light-hearted, but director Anne Fletcher deals a heavy hand, the humor mostly coming from sitcom veteran Aniston and the underutilized Ginger Minj as a drag performer who coaches the misfits to be true queens.
Harold Perrineau as Lee, the other veteran drag queen gives a great performance as the sage who saves the day and maybe the movie.
Macdonald plays Dumplin' as a sad sack and the whole film carries with it a surprising pall. This is one of those times where the trailer has a noticeably different tone than the actual feature. That is not to say the actress is not wonderful in the part, it's just her air of sadness feels so out of place when everyone else seems to be having a good time.
Take for instance Maddie Baillio as the other plus-size contestant Millie. Her effervesce and likable charm renders her girth unimportant, a point this film seems to be trying to make. Although Dumplin' is forming a coup against her mother and the pageant world, we are stuck with her moping about and by the end wonder why anyone would want to hang around her in the first place.
Even Luke Benward who plays her love interest Bo has an acting moment that energizes the scene, pleading for Dumplin' to snap out of it.
The extremely talented Bex Taylor-Klaus tries to emerge from the background, but her talent is reduced to acting out a trope even she seems uncomfortable with.
"Dumplin'" is not a bad film, its driving soundtrack and talented cast keep it completely afloat of the doldrums, but by the end, we aren't really sure what the main character is made of, and that's not as satisfying as the treat in the title implies.
Members can stream "Dumplin'" on Netflix now.
The soundtrack is also available on popular streaming services.