Not Your Momma’s Beauty Pageant – Dumplin’ (2018)

Each time Netflix adds movies to its catalog, older titles get a new life on the streaming platform. Whether or not that makes the streaming service worth a $17.99/month price tag is up to the individual consumer, but they do have a nice library of films. Among them, Dumplin’ is a charming, heartwarming indie comedy that’s more likely to make you smile than laugh out loud. 

Danielle McDonald (left) and her on-screen mom Jennifer Aniston (right)

The story follows a small-town young woman, Willowdean, who’s facing pressure from her mom, and peer group to fit in. As the daughter of a former pageant queen, she decides to enter the Miss Teen Bluebonnet contest to challenge the rules and serve as an unconventional role model.

Director Anne Fletcher nailed the pace and the tone, but Kristin Hahn’s adaptation of Julie Murphy’s novel missed an opportunity to be a truly special coming of age comedy. Danielle McDonald was great in the lead, and it’s easy to sympathize with her, but the movie would have benefitted greatly from more Jennifer Aniston as the shallow former pageant queen who’s desperately hanging on to what’s left of her fleeting fame. She’s got the comedy background and acting chops to pull off the character arc, but her character’s curve was fairly flat. That said, Aniston is still plenty good as Willowdean’s mom.

Bex Taylor-Klaus (left) and Maddie Baillio (right) at a red carpet event for the film

The supporting performances from Maddie Baillio, as the very traditional Millicent Middlechuck who’s going behind her religious mother’s back to enter the pageant, and Bex Taylor-Klaus, as the moody Hannah Perez, are the heart of the film. Along with Willowdean, they make for an unconventional friend group but the development of their relationships is where the movie is at its best. Watching the three of them share the journey through the stages of the contest ultimately makes the whole thing work. And Dolly Parton’s soundtrack is a highly entertaining backbone that lends itself to many of the film’s best moments and serves as the signature identity the movie needed. 

It doesn’t reinvent the genre, but there are some compelling and distinct wrinkles.

Recommendation: If you like coming of age comedies, it’s worth checking out. 

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