Netflix’s “Dumplin'” is the ultimate feel-good movie to cure your holiday-flick fatigue


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Photo: Getty Images/Rich Fury-Stringer

“A swimsuit body is just a body with a swimsuit on it,” is just one of the many body-positive truth kernels sprinkled throughout the just-released beauty-pageant Netflix flick, Dumplin’. Basically, the Jennifer Aniston-backed, feel-great beauty-pageant movie is the holiday gift from the streaming gods you didn’t know you needed. Why? Amid a barrage of (totally bingeable) countdown-to-Christmas rom-coms, this new release has no seasonal peg at all. Its central plot isn’t even a love story. How refreshing, right?

Our lead isn’t a workaholic ascending the career ladder while totally neglecting her personal life. Rather, she’s Willowdean (Danielle Macdonald), a plus-size teen in rural Texas who learned confidence—and Southern manners—from her confident-in-her-own-skin Aunt Lucy (Hilliary Begley), who passes away at the outset of the film. Will’s mom, Rosie (Jennifer Aniston), on the other hand, is a svelte former beauty queen still riding her small-town fame by way of running the very Miss Teen Bluebonnet competition that afforded her the crown years ago. Frustrated by the apparent ambivalence of her mom—who thoughtlessly, though not maliciously, calls Will “Dumplin'”—about the loss of Lucy, Will signs up for the pageant. She wants to honor her aunt’s legacy, and self-subscribing to the 85-year-old institution she feels to be her sample-size mom’s top priority seems like the best way.

What comes next is not a story about a weight-obsessed heroine not-so-heroically shedding pounds in order to win the competition and prove to herself and everyone else that she’s worthy—in time for the end credits to roll, of course. Over the 110-minute run time, there’s no talk of dieting—save for Willowdean eye-rolling at her mom for stocking the fridge with “bunny food and condiments” to sate her own nutrition plan. No, this body-positive flick (based on Julie Murphy’s 2015 YA novel of the same title) tackles what it really means to be comfortable, and confident without changing a single external thing about yourself. Or, as Dolly Parton (who gloriously soundtracks the film with her empowering tunes), would say, “find out who you are, and do it on purpose”—a sentiment Willowdean wistfully reminds herself of at various points.

Over the 110-minute run time, there’s no talk of dieting. This body-positive flick tackles what it really means to be comfortable, and confident without changing a single external thing about yourself.

Yes, she has her insecurities—but ones that stem from exceptionally ordinary teen dilemmas, not the pressure to be thin. When a very objectively cute guy (Luke Benward, who may give Noah Centineo a run for his internet-boyfriend status) flirts with Will, she starts rambling, assuming that there’s no way he could really like her. (Which is, y’know, a diary entry any 13- to 17-year-old since the beginning of time might’ve written.) And when he touches her lower back, she squirms. (Ditto to the teenage ubiquity in this.) In fact, it’s her fleeting bouts of self-doubt in these moments that irk her the most. “All of a sudden I was thinking, ‘Why does this hot guy want to kiss me?’” she, of course, recaps to her best friend. “And then I started hating myself for being that girl.”

Will’s not that girl. She strives to be someone who refuses to hide behind her size. She joins the pageant without intending to win, but hoping her curvy frame may upend the show in a sense; to showcase her physicality in what she feels could be a revolutionary way. Immediately, two other beauty-pageant misfits sign up right behind her. The trio form a sisterhood, scoring makeup tutorials from Dolly Parton-loving drag queens and encouraging each other to get out on that well-lit stage. No real spoilers, but the result is uplifting to say the least. This joyous Kinky Boots meets Miss Congeniality meets Little Miss Sunshine tale is just further proof of the good that comes from women (and allies of women) supporting other women.

In the words of Aunt Lucy, “The world is filled with people that are going to try to tell you who are, but that’s for you to decide.” Ummm…I’m not crying—you’re crying.

Burned out on movies in general? Here’s why playing board games with your family is the best way to spend the holidays. And here’s how to talk with your parents about their unhealthy habits without being disrespectful.

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