Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB. USA, 2018. COTA Films, Echo Films. Screenplay by Kristin Hahn, based on the novel by Julie Murphy. Cinematography by Elliot Davis. Produced by Mohamed AlRafi, Michael Costigan, Kristin Hahn, Trish Hofmann. Music by Jake Monaco. Production Design by Elizabeth J. Jones. Costume Design by Bina Daigeler. Film Editing by Emma E. Hickox. Golden Globe Awards 2018.
Willowdean (Danielle Macdonald) lives in a small town but she has big problems: she’s insecure about her weight, not helped by the fact that her beloved aunt has passed away and her former beauty queen mother’s devotion is to running the local pageant. At the burger joint she works at, Willowdean gets plenty of attention from the cute college boy flipping burgers but has internalized her mother’s criticism too much to believe he could really like her that way, her only joy in life coming from the love of the great Dolly Parton that her aunt shared with her before she died. Deciding to settle her differences with her mother (Jennifer Aniston), Willowdean signs up for the annual beauty pageant in the spirit of protest, but after discovering a drag bar that she never knew her late aunt frequented, she befriends its performers who teach her that it’s possible to see herself as beautiful without changing. Her attitude about participating in the event then changes in this sweet and unassuming film whose charming supporting cast give all the brightness they have to offer to a script that only pretends to care about them. Despite featuring plenty of her songs on the soundtrack, this one uses Parton’s music as an excuse for context rather than providing a solid foundation from which to spring (watch Muriel’s Wedding for a better movie about a frumpy girl taking solace in her favourite musical act). Macdonald fits the bill physically but has no vivacity in her performance, her Willowdean has the cynicism that her character’s insecurities demand but there’s never much of a sense that there is a dreamer hidden beneath the self-deprecation (again, Muriel). Aniston fares far better, as she tends to do, at presenting a character in conflict who can’t help but let her fear get in the way of her love, but the film doesn’t seem to know much about the actual world of beauty pageants and rushes through a story with far more dazzling elements than it can handle.