Odeya Rush

Dumplin’

10/01/18

Another day, another Netflix movie – and it would seem that the company that once boasted so many below-average releases has really found its feet and is regularly producing work that challenges the output of the more traditional film studios. Take Dumplin’ for instance. This low-budget charmer combines the American preoccupation with beauty pageants with the songs of Dolly Parton, and has plenty of opportunities to turn into a outright shmaltzfest. But it’s surefooted enough to waltz past the potential pitfalls, emerging on the far side as a genuinely heart-warming feelgood affair.

Willowdean (Danielle MacDonald) is a plump teenager living in a small town in Texas with her mother, Rosie (Jennifer Aniston). The plumpness, by the way, is an important plot point, not a judgemental description.

Back in her glory days, Rosie was crowned Miss Teen Bluebonnet at a local beauty pageant and has traded on the memory of it ever since, devoting all her spare time to organising similar events, making guest appearances and taking in sewing whenever she needs to make ends meet. For obvious reasons, Willowdean has not pursued a similar path through life and tolerates her Mother’s unthinking nickname for her – Dumplin’ – with as much good grace as she can muster. She works at a local diner, where she’s increasingly drawn to co-worker Bo (Luke Benward), but feels too self-conscious to take the situation further. She’s missing the companionship of her recently departed aunt Lucy, the woman who introduced young Willowdean to the music of Dolly Parton – and who did the lion’s share of babysitting while Rosie was on the road being a ‘beauty queen’.

When Willowdean discovers that Aunt Lucy once held an unfulfilled desire to enter the Miss Teen Bluebonnet pageant,  she decides that she will take part in it herself as a kind of protest against such an outmoded way of judging a woman’s worth. Naturally enough, this soon brings her into conflict with her mother – and with her best friend, Ellen (Odeya Rush). Can Willowdean work up the necessary confidence to see her unlikely mission through? And what exactly is she hoping to achieve?

This could so easily go horribly wrong, but screenwriter Kristin Hahn and director Anne Fletcher keep their eyes firmly fixed on the film’s central message – that our worth is about more than our looks – and let everything else fall into place. There’s an interesting detour where Willowdean and her friends get some tuition from a bunch of wonderfully nurturing drag artistes and, whenever proceedings threaten to lose impetus, there’s another Dolly Parton classic to power things briskly along. Whatever you think of beauty pageants – and I’ll happily admit they don’t figure highly on my list of favourite things – Dumplin’ is an enjoyable story that even the most pernickety will surely  enjoy.

Fans of Dolly Parton, by the way,  will have a field day.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Advertisements

Goosebumps

MV5BMjA1OTUzNTQ5Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODQ4NDkxNjE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Unknown

07/02/16

This movie, based around the books of the prolific teen author, R.L. Stine, has been in the works for a very long time. Originally slated as a vehicle for Tim Burton, back in 1998, it has bumped around in limbo since then but finally gets a cinematic outing courtesy of director Rob Letterman. The wait has been worth it, because this is an unqualified delight that takes just enough time to set out its stall, before plunging us headlong into a gallumphing chase that rarely loses momentum.

After the recent death of his father, Zach (Dylan Minette) moves from New York to Madison, Delaware with his mother, Gale (Amy Ryan) the newly appointed vice-principal at the local high school. Zach soon notices the attractive girl next door, Hannah (Odeya Rush) but is quickly herded off by her seemingly stern father, played by Jack Black. But appearances can be deceptive. It turns out that Hannah’s dad is the reclusive author, R.L. Stine and that his house is a repository for his original manuscripts, each of which has to be kept locked in order to prevent the creatures captured on its pages from coming to life. Zach manages to accidentally release the monster from Stine’s The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena and from that point, everything goes haywire… pretty soon, Madison is overrun with ravenous werewolves, shambling zombies and homicidal garden gnomes.

It’s an adorable premise and it’s expertly orchestrated; scenes where ink literally bleeds from the pages of the manuscripts to create the monsters of Stine’s imagination are particularly impressive. Malevolent ventriloquist’s doll, Slappy (from Night of the Living Dummy – also voiced by Black) is cleverly portrayed as Stine’s altar ego. The witty screenplay by Darren Lemke shows a clear understanding of the way a writer’s mind works – I loved the scene where Stine, obliged to write another story that is the only hope of salvaging a desperate situation, keeps dithering over the first line of the story. Goosebumps may not be profound or meaningful, but it’s hard to bring off this kind of fantasy storytelling successfully and here’s one of those rare attempts that succeeds on nearly every level. The CGI creatures are nicely done and a climactic scene with most of the cast barricaded into the school gymnasium brings everything to a suitable conclusion. There’s also a late plot twist concerning Hannah that I didn’t see coming.

If you’re already familiar with Stine’s work, it’ll be an added bonus, because most of his creatures are featured here, but it clearly doesn’t matter too much. I somehow managed to miss the books completely, but I liked the film a lot and would recommend it to anyone looking for a bit of harmless escapist fun. Enjoy!

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney