There is a certain agreement between Anne Fletcher, the director of “Dumplin'” and the audience – brace for cliches and have your faith in humanity restored.
Willowdean is a chubby teenager, whose only real friend was her deceased aunt Lucy. Nowadays, the girl struggles with fat shaming among her peers and her mother’s utterly egocentric philosophy of life. When she hears about a beauty pageant conducted in her town, Willowdean – against all the odds – participates in the contest.
I’ll be honest – the quick opening, where Willowdean is put in a typical “chubby girl that is the society’s reject” situation and then presented as a die-hard fan of Dolly Parton, had me worried.
From the start, Fletcher expects a lot of understanding and blink-an-eye attitude from the viewer. The plot dynamics are irritatingly oscillating around Dolly Parton’s philosophical lyrics, and while they obviously fit the particular situations ridiculously well, I found it hard buy a whole group of people knowing each one of her songs by the book.
The debit side, however, is quickly reduced to bring balance on the credit side.
Danielle Macdonald, who plays Willowdean, gained my sympathy almost instantly, as her genuine sense of humour and sharp character let her drive the bumpy road of plot shortcuts. She’s backed up by the veteran Jennifer Aniston, destructively self-critical as a egocentric, beauty-cantered mother, whose detachment from her daughter’s affairs is obviously tested heavily.
“Dumplin'” is also a very light-hearted film when it comes to any kind of harsher social debate. I believe that Fletcher’s approach is much more relatable for those, who struggle with problems similar to Willowdean’s. Instead of a depressing, psychologically dense drama, “Dumplin'” cuts the chase to be a teenage drama and a musical at once. At the same time, it doesn’t trick you into anything beyond like “13 Reasons” – Fletcher aims for a mood uplifter and knows the right strings to pull.
Although Fletcher didn’t avoid a far-fetched teenage drama, which too often reaches for moralising tone and artificial dialogues, “Dumplin'” never floats too far from its safe shore. It’s a perfect Netflix addition for the Christmas period – one that didn’t overwhelm with its festivity, but warmed my heart nicely.
Dir. Anne Fletcher
Hate Grade: 4.5/10
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