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Film / Dumplin'

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I learned most things from my Aunt Lucy. She taught me how to spell my name. W-I-L-L-O-W-D-E-A-N. Willowdean. She also taught me how to like a name like that. My mom being a bit of a celebrity around here just meant she was too busy for me. So my Aunt Lucy was the one who taught me how to say "Yes, ma'am," and "No, sir," how to look people in the eye, and how to find a keeper in a heap of junk. But most of all, my Aunt Lucy taught me about Dolly Parton.
Willowdean's opening monologue
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Dumplin' is a 2018 Netflix drama film starring Jennifer Aniston, Danielle Macdonald and Dove Cameron and heavily featuring Dolly Parton's music. It is based on the 2015 young adult novel of the same name by Julie Murphy.

Willowdean (or Dumplin', as her mother calls her) is the plus-size, teenage daughter of a former beauty queen. She signs up for her mom's pageant as a protest that escalates when other contestants follow in her footsteps, revolutionizing the pageant and their small Texas town.


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Tropes:

  • Actor Allusion: This isn’t the first time Kathy Najimi has played a conservative Texas mom. In the scene where she confronts Millie at the beauty pageant, she even has Peggy Hill’s bouffant and glasses.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Despite Willowdean having hang-ups about it, Rosie does appear to genuinely mean the name "Dumplin'" as a term of endearment. To her credit, she makes a conscious effort to not call Willowdean that anymore when she finds out how much she doesn't like it, but by then Willowdean's started to make peace with it.
  • Ain't No Rule:
    • Rosie invokes this after Willowdean is disqualified midway through the pageant for adding unapproved elements to her talent portion, allowing her to instead serve as Ellen's escort.
    • Millie also nearly name drops this trope:
Millie: There's nothing in the rules that says big girls need not apply.
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  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Rosie calls out Willowdean's titular nickname, which she hates, when dropping her off, leading the other students to mock her for it.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Hannah, in the movie. It's never outright stated what her sexuality is, but she certainly dresses for it, and there's a quick shot of Hannah lining up with a girl in an evening gown as her escort in the pageant. In the book, Hannah explicitly states she is a lesbian, and the girl who escorts her is her girlfriend.
  • Bathos: Willow and Rosie making up in the backstage is an intensely emotional scene, especially when Willow leaves Rosie with a letter containing a heartfelt message to her and Lucy's missing bee brooch, prompting Rosie to cry. Since Rosie's make up would be ruined if she did so, this promptly leads to a scene where she tries to dry her tears using a hair dryer.
  • Be Yourself: A central theme of the movie is being comfortable with who you are, and owning it. Summarized by Dolly Parton's quote, "Find out who you are, and do it on purpose."
  • Beauty Contest: Rosie is the director of the Miss Teen Bluebonnet pageant, and Willowdean and her friends decide to compete.
  • Belated Love Epiphany: A familial version. Rosie wasn't close to her late sister Lucy, but she eventually regrets not taking the time to really get to know Lucy when she had the chance. When Willowdean admits she donated most of Lucy's belongings, Rosie replies, "I think I gave too much of her away."
  • Big Beautiful Woman: Willowdean, Aunt Lucy, and Millie.
  • Butch Lesbian: Hannah has a short haircut and opts for a suit instead of a dress when it comes time for the formal wear competition.
  • Composite Character: Hannah combines elements of the book version of Hannah, who is Afro-Latina, and the Adapted Out Amanda, who is white and Millie's best friend.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Millie's mother ends up sitting side by side with the drag queens that helped Millie, Willow and Hannah get ready for the show. One of them is surprised when realizing told this.
  • Creator Cameo: Julie Murphy, the author of the book, is briefly seen in the audience at a drag show.
  • Dance Party Ending: Over the credits, we see another drag show, this time with Willowdean and Millie's moms in attendance, and Willowdean, Millie, and Hannah up onstage singing and dancing along to Dolly Parton.
  • Deceased Parents Are the Best: While not a parent, Lucy was Willow's Parental Substitute and apparently, was dearly loved by everyone that met her. She was particularly told to have a way to make people feel comfortable with themselves.
  • Disappeared Dad: Willowdean's father is never even mentioned.
  • Drag Queen: Willowdean, Millie and Hannah get help from a few drag queens from the local drag show.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Willowdean dislikes being called "Dumplin'" by her mother, seeing it as a harsh reminder that she's not what her mother wanted. She makes peace with it at the end.
  • Everything's Better with Sparkles:
    • All the girls' pageant outfits are loaded with sparkles.
    • Rosie tells Willowdean a story about how Aunt Lucy stayed up all night fixing the sequins on her dress before the pageant.
  • Fag Hag: Implied by the fact that Lucy had no known boyfriend or husband, but went to a gay bar every week and was close friends with several of the Drag Queens working there.
  • Fat and Proud: Aunt Lucy, and she helps Willowdean feel this way too.
  • Fat and Skinny: Willowdean and Ellen, as well as Millie and Hannah.
  • Fat Best Friend: Inverted with Willowdean and Ellen. Willowdean is the big girl, but she's the main character and Ellen is the sidekick.
  • Fluffy Fashion Feathers: Willowdean's evening gown has a feather collar framing her face.
  • Formerly Fat: Rosie once resembled her plus size sister, but lost a lot of weight.
  • Genki Girl: Millie is constantly in high spirits and is nearly impossible to discourage.
  • Groin Attack: A bully makes fun of Willowdean's nickname, which already pisses her off, but then he makes a cruel comment to Millie — so Willowdean knees him the balls. Hannah approves.
    Hannah: Nice aim.
  • A Hero to His Hometown: Rosie is a mildly big deal in her hometown, because of the pageants.
  • Hide Your Lesbians: Hannah. She's un-girly, has a short cropped haircut, and is a proud feminist. It's never outright stated what her sexuality is, but there's a quick shot of Hannah lining up with a girl in an evening gown as her escort in the pageant.
  • I Can't Believe a Guy Like You Would Notice Me: Willowdean towards Bo, due to his being more conventionally attractive than she is.
  • I Resemble That Remark!: When signing up for the pageant, Willowdean snarks that she can recite all of Rosie's spiel from memory, since it seems the pageant is all she ever talks about. To prove her point, she parrots a little bit of it, much to Rosie's annoyance. Then, not five minutes later, Rosie begins her speech to the contestants... and begins saying the exact same lines Willowdean just did. The look on her face makes it very clear she realizes what she just did, but can't acknowledge it.
  • Insecure Love Interest: Willowdean is very insecure about Bo's feelings her, particularly when Beckah starts hanging around him.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Willowdean is sarcastic, judgmental, and sometimes unreasonable, but she's a good person deep down, and a lot of her issues stem from insecurity.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Willowdean's love interest Bo.
  • Nice Girl: Millie. There's truly not a cruel or even unhappy bone in her body.
  • No Antagonist: Despite what the pageant setting might imply, there's no Alpha Bitch trying to tear Willowdean and her friends down for entering. The closest to any antagonists are a few nameless random bully characters who mock Willowdean and Millie for their weight in the first half of the movie but are never seen again.
  • Oh, Crap!: Played for Laughs when the trio of drag queens realize they're sitting next to Millie's mother, having been informed how overprotective and religious she is. Fortunately, it all works out fine.
  • Out of Focus: Hannah doesn't get nearly as much character development as Millie or Willowdean.
  • Parental Substitute: Willowdean's mother Rosie is in her life, but Willowdean was really raised by her Aunt Lucy and feels a greater connection to her.
  • Parents as People:
    • Rosie Dickson. She's often hung up on Willowdean's appearance and is obsessed with pageantry, but she works hard in a tough job to support herself and Willowdean, she's still grieving her sister, and she simply wants to continue to participate in the activity she loved most when she was younger.
    • In the end, Millie's mom. She's at first presented as an obstacle, since she refused to let Millie participate in the pageant and is in general implied to be very controlling. But on the night of the pageant, we find out that she was sincerely trying to protect Millie, afraid she'd get laughed at by the other contestants. When she realizes how tough Millie actually is, and how badly she wants to compete, she relents.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: All the ensembles that the drag queens provide the girls and Rosie.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Hannah's primary role in the movie is to provide one-liners and break the tension when things get heavy.
  • Reality Ensues:
    • Even though he totally deserved it, Willowdean kicking a bully in the crotch gets her suspended.
    • Everyone loves Willowdean's magic act, but since she added unapproved elements, she is disqualified from the pageant. Fortunately, Willowdean saw this coming and takes it in stride.
    • Beckah, the thin, perky, baton-twirling blonde wins the pageant, to the surprise of no one. Willowdean and her friends are too elated by Millie coming in second place to care, though.
  • Satellite Love Interest: Bo doesn't seem to have much of a personality outside of being very into Willowdean.
  • Second Place Is for Losers: Gloriously averted. Millie comes in second, and everyone's thrilled, since a girl Millie's size — even a pretty, extremely talented girl like her — placing in the pageant at all is a win.
  • Serious Business: Rose will have you know that the Miss Teen Bluebonnet, established in 1933, is the oldest pageant in the great state of Texas.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Gender flipped by Hannah, who wears a suit for the formal wear segment of the pageant, and looks very fetching.
  • Shipper on Deck: Ellen for Willowdean/Bo.
  • So Proud of You: Rosie is moved to tears by Willowdean's performance at the pageant and lets her know it.
  • Stage Mom: Averted. If anything, Rosie doesn't want Willowdean to compete in the pageant, doesn't let Will skirt the rules just because she is her daughter, and is ultimately supportive of her.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Willowdean greatly resembles her late Aunt Lucy, far more than she resembles her actual mother. One of the drag queens admits that when he first saw Willowdean, he thought he was seeing Lucy's ghost.
  • Talent Contest: One of the portions of the pageant is a talent. Millie sings and kills it, and Willowdean performs a magic routine.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Ellen calls Willowdean out for her attitude problem. Willowdean later realizes she was right, and apologizes, leading them to reconcile.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Acknowledged in the opening, where Willowdean admits she had to learn how to like her unusual name.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: On Lucy's pageant application, her birthdate is listed as 5/5/79 and her age as 16 years. However, the application is dated August 1st, 1993. At that time, she would have been 14.

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