A movie and book review.
Dumplin’, originally a New York Times Bestseller book by Julie Murphy, is now a Netflix Original directed by Anne Fletcher.
The book is a powerful read about a strong, fat protagonist, Willowdean Dickson and the struggles she faces after her aunt Lucy passes away. She’s also known as Will and, her mother’s nickname for her, Dumplin’. These struggles range from the tension in her personal relationships with her mom, Rosie Dickson; her best friend, Ellen Dryver; and her coworker, Bo Larson; to the challenges, she faces entering the Miss Teen Bluebonnet beauty pageant. And she has to deal with all of them at once.
She faces all of this alone after her aunt Lucy, who practically raises her, passes away within the last year. Her aunt plays a pivotal role in Will’s life. Lucy not only instills her love for Dolly Parton, a popular American country singer, but also teaches Will to love herself despite how others treat her. The author, Murphy, even starts the book with a famous Dolly Parton quote, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”
But after Lucy passes away, Will finds out how even Lucy had a difficulty being herself and pursuing things she wanted to but couldn’t because of how she felt about her body. So to live Lucy’s dream, Will enters the Bluebonnet pageant.
Will not only challenges beauty pageants and who can participate in them, but she also became a role model for other girls who were bullied for their physical appearances.
Will even says in the beginning pages, “The word fat makes people uncomfortable… But that’s me. I’m fat. It’s not a cuss word. It’s not an insult. At least not when I say it.”
By joining the pageant Will and her friends show that how they look shouldn’t be a barrier to what they want to do or even what they can do. Despite the fact that Will didn’t choose to be this role model, she has this confidence in her that allows her to not only push herself but others as well. She’s a leader.
Along with dealing with the pageant and the challenges that come with that, she has to confront her personal issues involving her relationship with her mother, Rosie Dickson, a former BlueBonnet Pageant Queen.
Will’s relationship with her mother has rough edges. Especially, when it comes to her weight. Her mom makes her go on diets with her. She has to watch weight loss tv show programs with her. But worse of all she doesn’t treat Will the same way she does the skinny pageant girls.
Then there’s Bo. He works alongside Will at Harpy’s Burgers and Dogs. I can go on and on about Will’s relationship with Bo but I’ll leave it at this, watching their relationship change makes the story extremely relatable, especially Will’s inner insecurities even if she projects confidence. I think Danielle Macdonald, the actress who plays Will in the movie, described their relationship the best.
“Obviously he’s a cute guy [Bo], but I don’t think he’s meant to represent the hottest guy that’s super popular. He’s not a star football player. It’s not about that at all,” Macdonald said in an interview with Elle about Will’s relationship with Bo.“He’s just a guy at her [Will’s] work who actually has his own life and his own challenges. He just happened to find someone that is real and who he connects with, so why wouldn’t he like her? She [Will] sees him [Bo] as this amazing guy, but he also sees her as this also powerful, beautiful girl. That’s the point. We shouldn’t be looking at this and being like, how could I get involved with this guy? I think that’s more the point of it—that there doesn’t have to be a barrier, and it also doesn’t matter what other people think, because they’re both into it. I think that’s pretty special.”
However, since I read the book first, the movie didn’t hit me as strongly as the book did. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is amazing on its own but because of the limited time, a lot of my favorite scenes and characters couldn’t make an appearance. I noticed that the movie focused more on how Will and her friends conquer this pageant. Whereas the book incorporated how she had to deal with her changing relationship with her mom, best friend and Bo.
The movie and the book are common in that they focus on fighting against how pageants reinforce the patriarchal beauty standards. Both the book and movie achieve spreading the message, but for me, the book was better and Will’s character was more rounded out. I highly recommend reading it.
With more books and movies like Dumplin’, we can increase the representation of fat persons in the media. In fact, Will even says, “I hate seeing fat girls on TV or in movies, because the only way the world seems to be okay with putting a fat person on camera is if they’re miserable with themselves or if they’re the jolly best friend. Well, I’m neither of those things.”