In September 2015, author Julie Murphy released her second Young Adult novel, Dumplin'. I have to share her bio with you, because it's just too good:
"Julie Murphy is a potty-mouthed Southern belle who was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, but found her home in Fort Worth, Texas. She’s never seen Star Wars, but has yet to meet a made for TV movie she didn’t love. When she’s not writing, Julie can be found cruising Costco for free samples, watching Sister Act 2, stalking drag queens on instagram, obsessing over the logistics of Mars One, and forever searching for the perfect slice of cheese pizza. She lives with her bearded husband, two vicious cats, and one pomeranian that can pass as a bear cub."
This made me laugh out loud. She's obviously fun in real life.
Dumplin' tells the story of Willowdean Dickson, a high school student who decides to enter the local beauty pageant, run by her mother, a former pageant queen. The problem? Willowdean knows her plus-size body is not what people are used to seeing up on that stage.
The sub plot here is that Willowdean is also mourning the recent loss of her aunt, who she shared everything with - including a similar size and shape, and a deep love for Dolly Parton.
When Jennifer Aniston signed on to executive produce and bring the book to the big screen, the first call her team made was to Dolly Parton (fun fact: Aniston has a dog named Dolly). They wanted to know if Dolly would allow some of her music to be used in the film, and if she might be open to writing some new tunes as well. Dolly said yes, and her famous voice can be heard throughout the film (though she never appears on screen).
Jennifer Aniston not only served as executive producer, but she plays the role of Willowdean's mother, Rosie. Aniston completely transforms in this part, walking with a giant stick up her butt, treating pageant rules like religion, and brushing off any wild ideas her daughter has about breaking the mold.
There is one scene were Willowdean drives Rosie to a pageant event, and Rosie is laying down across the entire back seat of the car so she doesn't wrinkle her dress. When they arrive, she shimmies her entire body forward, parallel to the ground, and waits to stand up until the very last minute, to ensure she looks as perfectly thin and coiffed as possible.
Willowdean, nicknamed Dumplin' by her mother, is played by Danielle Macdonald. I didn't read the book, but many people who have told me that Macdonald doesn't have the spirit or vibe they were picturing while reading.
I liked her in the part, and was particularly invested in her budding romance with Bo, her co-worker at a local burger joint. Bo is played by Luke Benward, who was Melissa McCarthy's collegiate love interest in Life of the Party. Those who read the book told me much of Bo's story was cut from the film, which is a shame, because their scenes together were my favorite.
The relationship that gets a major focus (besides Willowdean and her mother) is the one between Willowdean and her best friend Ellen. Ellen is played by Odeya Rush, who looked strangely familiar. After the movie was over, we looked her up and she played Jenna, the popular girl in Lady Bird. Ellen enters the beauty pageant in solidarity, and helps Willowdean pull off a major feat during the swim suit competition.
For me, the break out star of the film is Maddie Baillio, who plays Millie Michalchuk, another plus-size pageant contestant. Watching her reminded me of watching Rebel Wilson in the first Pitch Perfect movie. You will be seeing more of this gal. Jennifer Aniston's real-life best friend, Kathy Najimy, gets a cameo in the film as Millie's overprotective mother.
Netflix nabbed the distribution deal for Dumplin', which meant it was released in select theaters and on Netflix at the same time. This was great news for us, as we decided to make an evening of it, cooking up a gluttonous meal and watching from the comfort of my couch.
Dolly Parton is nominated for Best Original Song at the upcoming Golden Globe Awards for "Girl in the Movies," written just for Dumplin'. Personally, I cannot wait to see what she wears on the red carpet.
If you are looking for a great movie to watch on the couch over the holiday break or to download for a plane ride, Dumplin' is a delicious escape.