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Review: Dumplin' (Anne Fletcher)

Danielle MacDonald and Jennifer Aniston in Dumplin'

Here she comes again! Anne Fletcher tackles an undercooked script and an underserving budget in Dumplin', a movie that makes up for both with the sheer weight of its good intentions - if that sounds like balance, then it sounds right, but since when was a good movie made on balance alone? Balance is middling, balance is average, and Dumplin' is precisely that. For every ephemeral guilty pleasure it delivers, there's a deeper pleasure it fails to provide, and an enduring sense of opportunities squandered. Few such conventional pictures can recall equally conventional forebears and make the viewer yearn for their particular predictabilities over their own; fewer still can make said viewer forgive them, and so Dumplin' occupies an ironically unique position within the pantheon of female-oriented would-be cult comedy classics (it's a bigger pantheon than that might seem).

The gentle, subtle subversion of casting a plus-size lead in such a title, indeed one that devotes significant time to developing itself as a quasi-rom-com, may perhaps go unrecognized by audiences, yet it remains one of this movie's most compelling, flattering attributes. It's something that Dumplin' almost takes for granted, or at least appears to in the service of persuading its audience to do the same; the sweet, sensitive performance of Danielle MacDonald aids considerably, the Patti Cake$ star confirming her range and effortlessly emphasizing the story's emotional drives that such a thin screenplay might at least seem adequate. Alas, not even Greta Garbo could make it seem any more than adequate, nor the movie itself any more than just a cute little diversion, a rainy Sunday afternoon pastime, destined for a single consumption and swift disposal into the depths of Netflix's catalogue.

MacDonald is supported by a cast not only diverse in identity and appearance but also in ability, an ensemble of caricatures inhabited to varying degrees of success by performers both fresh and familiar, both weak and strong. One, for example, rather expects Jennifer Aniston to light up any picture, as she reliably does; one may not expect Kathy Najimy to get lost in the mix, though blame Fletcher's horribly poor execution of her opening scene. Similar problems plague Dumplin', its every potential to impress stymied by some kind of fault or another, generally attributable to a flimsy script and/or a budget that can't quite enable it to reach the same heights as its multitudinous inspirations. There may just be a cult comedy classic buried somewhere in here - every now and then, it starts to show itself, before receding back into disappointment - but buried it shall remain beneath a dissatisfying mask of glitter, sequins and disposable pageantry.

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