In 2015, Fort Worth author Julie Murphy broke out with her sophomore young adult novel, the New York Times bestseller Dumplin’. The book is a charming chance to meet the sort of protagonist who has rarely taken center stage in a story: Willowdean “Dumplin'” Dickson, the Dolly Parton-obsessed daughter of a former beauty queen who decides to embrace her identity as the “fat girl” and prove that she can compete in her mom’s world by entering a beauty pageant on her own terms.
The story twists in satisfying ways. Dumplin’ becomes a sort of “Joan of Arc” (in her words) of unorthodox beauty pageant contestants, leading some of her classmates to follow her inspiration; she finds a mentor in unconventional ways to perform femininity by venturing out to the booming world of Dallas drag queens; she and her mom learn valuable lessons about what really matters and how to better understand one another. It’s a tale that’s almost built for Hollywood, except for the lack of films taking over multiplexes about fat girls.
Enter Netflix, which has spent 2018 reaping the rewards of increasingly high-profile features looked over by most distributors. Dumplin’, a Netflix original debuting on December 7, stars Danielle Macdonald—who delivered a breakthrough performance as the star of last year’s PattiCake$—as the title character, while Jennifer Aniston (who also produces) plays her mom. The trailer for the film was released on Wednesday:
The tone of the film, based on the trailer, seems to nail Murphy’s writing. Macdonald, who was a revelation in Patticake$, seems convincing as a North Texas teen who’s fed up with the culture around her, and the always-good Aniston immediately brings a warmth and familiarity to the role of an overbearing mom. (Lost and Oz star Harold Perrineau, meanwhile, looks great as drag queen Rhea Ranged.)
Netflix’s slate of 2018 programming has been increasingly ambitious and diverse, especially when it comes to its movies, and Dumplin’ looks poised to follow in the footsteps of surprise hits like this summer’s To All the Boys I Loved Before. As the streaming platform is giving it a limited theatrical release in addition to availability online, it may even have awards potential.