My taste in movies is dictated by a few things; are the trailers good? Is there an actor I know? Is it content I’m probably going to resonate with? When trailers and advertising started rolling out for Dumplin’, the other popular Netflix movie opposite Birdbox, I thought to myself “you know what, maybe”. What changed my mind was watching the Jolene music video, starring Alaska, Manila Luzon, Katya, Ginger Minj, Bebe Zahara Benet and BenDelaCreme. I’m a sucker for Drag Race and, in the words of Ginger Minj herself, they got me gal.
And then I actually watched the movie, and it was one of the cutest, most wholesome movies I’ve ever watched. Dumplin’ revolves around Willowdean Dickson, nicknamed Dumplin’ by her mum, in the aftermath of her aunt Lucy’s death. Willowdean is a plus-sized girl, just like her aunt Lucy, and her mum is a former beauty pageant winner and current host of the Miss Teen Bluebonnet pageant. Will discovers an unfinished pageant entry form in her aunt’s possessions and resolves to enter the pageant her mum is an alum of to prove to the world and to Lucy’s memory that plus-size girls can compete in pageants.
Joining her in this endeavour is Will’s best friend Ellen, the most innocent bean ever Millie, and the most enjoyable teenage dyke ever Hannah. The best part about this is that you see Will come out of herself when Ellen leaves the group dynamic; she becomes a lot more compliant with the other girls and eventually, she starts trying to win the pageant. And then there’s a whole best friends spiel right before the pageant which left me laughing and crying because I have the exact same relationship with my own best friend and watching it reminded me of that.
And now we get to talk about my favourite part of the whole movie; the training montage. Beauty pageants are just like any other sport, and just like every sports movie, there’s a training montage. Except in Dumplin’, the coaches are drag queens. Harold Perrineau plays Rhea Ranged, the main drag queen character, and has a bunch of very cute, Dolly-Parton-themed advice both emotionally and performance-wise that helps cement the girls’ want to do the pageant. And then there’s Ginger Minj, who plays Candee Disch, who plays the supportive mom character perfectly. The movie is as much about family dynamics as it is a coming of age story, and both Millie’s and Willowdean’s mothers are against their daughters competing in the pageant. So when Candee Disch comes in tata’s shaking and fringe flowing doing everything in her power to help the girls, it reinvigorates the sense of family. She becomes their drag mother, and they rely on her and trust her help. Plus she shows up to the pageant in full geish, like any good mother does, and you can see the love when Millie performs and both Candee and Millie’s mum start cheering her on.
There’s also a love story between Will and her coworker Bo, but it’s one of the few ones I actually enjoy. Bo isn’t there to act as a way of acceptance for Will, in fact, she rejects him to start because she doesn’t accept herself. But throughout the film, she gains confidence in herself, to the point where she absolutely slaughters her talent portion and gets disqualified because it wasn’t what she’d shown in preliminaries. Danielle MacDonald, who played Willowdean, did a fantastic job in portraying this journey of self-acceptance and the pay off isn’t when Will and Bo kiss, it’s well before then. It’s when Will and Ellen make up, it’s when Will and her mum come to an understanding and her mum cries at how Will has turned out, it’s when Will shakes off the nickname Dumplin’ as a bad thing and realises that it’s just a word and it can’t hurt her. The love story is just the cherry on top, telling the viewer that you don’t have to find acceptance through a relationship because you can do it yourself.
All in all, I really loved Dumplin’. When I got into it I was like “I’m only here to watch Ginger Minj”, but I got invested in the story and as each obstacle was overcome they really left an impact. I’m pretty sure I was happy crying through most of the pageant scenes because it was all just so adorable. If you’re looking for pointers on how to capture an audience, or you just need a good movie to watch over the weekend, put on some popcorn, load up your Netflix and give Dumplin’ a watch.