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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Dumplin' is a fun, inspirational comedy -- with a dramatic core -- about a plus-size teen (Danielle Macdonald) who challenges cultural norms when she signs up for the small-town Texas beauty pageant that her mother (Jennifer Aniston) manages. Based on Julie Murphy's 2015 YA book, the movie has lots to say about body image, self-confidence, empathy, acceptance, diversity, and tricky mother-daughter relationships. The humor, some of it based on good-natured stereotyping (Southerners, drag queens), is finely balanced with serious issues that are treated with insight and empathy. There's a bit of swearing, including "f--k" once and "s--t" twice. Fat-shaming (e.g., "whale," "pig") and bullying are also key elements of the story. The heroine punches a bully in the groin. Three teens are seated in a bar, though they aren't served alcohol. Expect a few romantic kisses and a troupe of supportive drag entertainers. A special highlight of the movie is the inclusion of Dolly Parton as an (offscreen) icon; her music serves as the movie's primary score.
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What's the story?
As DUMPLIN' opens, Willowdean "Will" Dickson (Danielle Macdonald) has recently lost her beloved Aunt Lucy (Hilliary Begley). Willowdean and Lucy had a special relationship that was cemented by a mutual Love (with a capital "L") for Dolly Parton. Both plus-size, Will and Lucy valued, loved, and protected each other, while Rosie (Jennifer Aniston) -- Will's mom -- has never let go of her teen beauty-queen ideals. Now in charge of the "Miss Teen Bluebonnet" pageant, Rosie loves her daughter but can't help being disappointed in not having given birth to "pageant material." In fact, she calls Willowdean "Dumplin'," which makes the girl cringe in embarrassment. At a low moment in their relationship, Will rebels. She throws caution (and self-consciousness) to the wind and, along with her loyal best friend, Ellen (Odeya Rush), signs up to compete for the title of Miss Teen Bluebonnet to show Rosie up. Will's bravado inspires two other atypical teens to sign up, too. What begins as a protest takes the feisty heroine and her friends on a journey of self-discovery and eye-opening new experiences, turning small-town Texas on its heels (stilettos, for sure).
Is it any good?
Part fairy tale, part coming-of-age story, and always about self-acceptance, this movie will make you laugh and warm your heart. Rising above some predictability, stereotyping, and dispensable profanity, Dumplin' delivers bright performances (especially from the very talented Macdonald), sparkling musical numbers, a solid story, and a resolution that, while not surprising, is more than satisfying. Teens who are enjoying the profusion of romcoms now streaming, many of them on Netflix, will find Dumplin' a cut above the rest. It's recommended, particularly as a shared experience.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can discuss Dumplin's rallying cry (credited to Dolly Parton): "Find out who you are, and do it on purpose." What does that mean? In what way(s) is the concept relevant for you?
Is Willowdean a role model? Why or why not? Do the filmmakers portray her appearance with dignity? What about Aunt Lucy? Millie?
It's often challenging for movies to blend humor and drama. How did the filmmakers use humor to heighten the serious issues here?
If you've read the book, which did you like better? Why?
How does the movie show the character strength of empathy?
- On DVD or streaming: December 7, 2018
- Cast: Danielle Macdonald, Jennifer Aniston, Luke Benward
- Director: Anne Fletcher
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Book Characters, Friendship, High School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character Strengths: Empathy
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: brief strong language
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
- Last updated: September 28, 2019
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