I’ll just say it, I hate Dumplin’.
I read dumplin’ for the same reason many people read it in 2018, Netflix announced that they would be making it into a movie with Jennifer Aniston. I wouldn’t say I love Aniston or anything, but I think she’s a fairly ok actress and I do love watching Friends. I also really enjoyed the Switch.
I watched the trailer for Dumplin’, and it looked like a very cute movie about an overweight girl with an awful former-beauty-queen mother who joins a beauty pageant. I knew that Dumplin’ was based on a book and I immediately requested it from Libby so that I could read it before watching the Netflix movie. I got the book a few weeks later and dove right in.
First, let’s talk about what I liked about Dumplin’ (the book). I like the basic premise of a book about an overweight protagonist who was proud of her body and sassy. I identify as zaftig*; I get it. I also liked a lot of the secondary and tertiary characters such as Aunt Lucy, Amanda, Millie, Hannah. That’s about it.
Now let’s talk about what I disliked about Dumplin’ (the book) and why I only gave it 2 stars. First, Dumplin’ is a lesson in trite writing (and why authors should avoid it), with quotes like “every body is a swimsuit body”. I personally agree that everybody should feel comfortable about wearing swimsuits but that particular saying just makes me cringe, and it is super overused.
The second thing I disliked about Dumplin’ is that Dumplin’ is not a likable protagonist, and her mother should not be seen as the antagonist. Willowdean is frankly not someone I would like to be friends with. She has an attitude and is frankly not a very nice person. All of the other characters seem to forgive her way too easily. She tells Ellen she can’t enter the beauty pageant, and Ellen forgives her just like that, even taking some of the blame. In reality, it wasn’t Ellen’s fault, it was Willowdean’s. She makes assumptions about everyone she meets without getting to know them (Millie, Amanda, Hannah, Bo, her other love interest whose name I can’t remember). She’s unnecessarily harsh towards her mother, who don’t get me wrong isn’t the best person on earth but is trying. I actually really liked her mother as she was one of the most realistic and human characters in the book. She was also one of the only quasi-developed characters in the book
Let’s talk about character development. Dumplin’ is not a short book, and the movie proves that much of it could have been cut down with better editing. However, despite being a 400-page book, very little attention is put into character development or exploration. The fact that I can’t even remember Willowdean’s other love interest is evidence of this fact. There were many things which could have been done to further our understanding of Millie, Hannah, Amanda, and Bo. I wanted to know why Bo was so quiet. I wanted to hear more about his failed basketball career. I wanted to see the other boy grapple with the fact that he clearly didn’t like football very much despite being good at it. The only character who shows any depth and development is Willowdean’s mom but there was still room for better writing there. So many missed opportunities.
After finishing reading Dumplin’ I was sincerely hoping the movie would be better but I was horribly let down. The movie left out characters and scenes I really enjoyed such as Amanda and the scene where Willowdean and her mom stay up all night making her prop. I also wish they had shown the scene where Willowdean and Hannah drink the beers and bond. In general, without that scene and without Amanda, Hannah seemed really out of place in the movie.
Overall, I wouldn’t recommend reading or watching Dumplin’.
*Zaftig:having a full rounded figure : pleasingly plump having a full rounded figure: pleasingly plump (Merriam-Webster).