Quickie Review: Dumplin’

‘Tis the season to squeeze in a few guilty-pleasure movies alongside the “art” that is your straight-up Oscar bait. Dumplin’ may not win any big awards, but it will warm your heart, and that’s gotta count for something. Plus, you can already stream it on Netflix! Dumplin’ is a formulaic, feel-good film that’s brimming with schmaltz, and topped with a dollop of Dolly Parton. It stars Danielle Macdonald (indie darling Patti Cake$) as Willowdean Dixon, the plus-size teenage daughter of a Texas beauty queen (Jennifer Aniston).

As a form of protest, Willowdean (aka Dumplin’) decides to enter the local pageant that consumes a huge chunk of her mother’s time, energy and heart – the Miss Teen Bluebonnet pageant. She wrangles a few other misfits to join her cause and sets out to undermine the event and test the limits of its time-honored rules and procedures. Of course, this wouldn’t be a cheesy Hallmark-style movie if it didn’t ultimately spread a few valuable lessons about love, friendship and the true meaning of beauty.

What makes this comedic drama work in all its syrupy glory is the cast – and the Dolly. Macdonald and Aniston have the acting chops to elevate a somewhat superficial script, based on a young adult novel by Julie Murphy. And c’mon, who doesn’t love Dolly Parton? A key story arc serves as an homage to the country superstar who collaborated with Sia, Mavis Staples, Miranda Lambert and others on the film’s toe-tapping soundtrack. Unless you have a heart of coal, Dumplin’ is likely to put a smile on your face and a tear in your eye. It’s simply sweet. Perfect for cleansing the palate between all those heavy-hitting Oscar contenders.

[Note: There is a companion novel called “Puddin'” that follows some of the supporting characters in the months after the pageant. I smell a sequel baking.]

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