“The book is always better.” It’s a saying for a reason. That doesn’t mean it’s always true. There are a few rare cases in which the movie takes its source material and makes it better. Although I’ve never read it, many people use Forrest Gump as the best example of this.
Here are 10 other movies the internet generally agrees are better than books:
- Jurassic Park
- The Princess Bride
- The Godfather
- Blade Runner
- Fight Club
- The Notebook
- The Devil Wears Prada
- Die Hard
I don’t know that I agree with all of these and, to be fair, I haven’t read every book on this list. (I didn’t even realize The Godfather was a book until my 20s when my mother told me she remembered reading it as a young adult. And, seriously, did anyone really know Jaws or Die Hard were books before they were super famous movies in the 70s and 80s, anyway?)
What this limited list tells me is it’s rare to find a movie better than the book. Therefore, my upcoming opinion on the book Dumplin’ is likely to be unpopular. Here it goes. I just watched the movie on Netflix and I liked it better than the book, a lot better.
First, I admit I read Dumplin’ all wrong because I read its companion and semi-sequel, Puddin’ first and LOVED it. Millie Michalchuk. is. my. hero.
The switching perspectives between Millie and dance-team brat Callie Reyes could have been hyperbolic to an unrealistic degree, but author Julie Murphy manages to keep both potentially stereotypical characters grounded and real. This is what I love about Puddin’. Stereotypes are based on something, fairly or unfairly, especially in high school. Watch any high school movie and there is the obligatory, and often rather racist, scene where the “new girl” (or boy) is introduced to the various school cliques, always boiled down to their basic stereotypical traits. (For examples see: Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You, Mean Girls).
We all group and stereotype people, intentionally or not. Grouping and categorizing is how people make sense of the world. What we often forget is that people are much more than a few traits. In Puddin’, Murphy takes these stereotypes and digs beneath the surface, showing the people underneath.
Puddin’ made me angry and then cry with joy. Dumplin’, a great book with an authentic, wonderful main character, did not.
Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoyed the book Dumplin’, particularly because the main character is so real. She didn’t fit into any of the literary (and movie) “big girl” tropes, which I basically despise, such as the “big girl with a heart of gold” or “the sweet best friend” or “the funny friend who eats a lot and for some reason that’s funny.”
My favorite line in the book (which is also in the movie) is the one where Willowdean’s (aka, Dumplin’) mother is talking about Aunt Lucy, who was overweight and recently died. Both she and Willowdean are still trying to come to terms with the loss and the mother says, “If [Lucy] took better care of herself, she would probably still be here.”
This is what many people think: If someone just took care of themselves and lost that weight, they would be happier or better somehow. Like you can’t be good enough as you are. Like somehow being skinny equals happiness. (I’m not trying to diminish the importance of living a healthy lifestyle, but skinny doesn’t always equal healthy and it definitely doesn’t always equal happy.)
Of course, Willowdean sees why this seemingly “logical” comment is so flawed and her character’s story arc essentially dismantles the overriding concept behind the statement.
Dumplin’ the book does a great job of introducing the common misconceptions people have about being overweight and exposes the fault in their viewpoint in a non-threatening and very relatable way. Dumplin’ the movie does it even better.
Reasons I Liked the Movie Better
1. It capitalizes on all the best parts of the book.
The movie focuses in on the main themes of the book and enhances them. The friendship between Willowdean and Ellen and, later, the friendships she forms with Millie and Amanda are at the heart of the book and they are at the heart of the movie.
2. It doubles down on Dolly and girl power.
In the book, many of the characters share a love of all things Dolly Parton. However, reading about Dolly Parton’s music and actually listening to her songs weaved throughout a story are two different things. Unless it’s an audiobook, this is just a benefit of the cinematic platform. However, the movie takes further advantage of its auditory and visual benefits by enhancing storylines related to Dolly Parton, and in turn, the be-who-you-are-girl-power theme. One way it does this is by fleshing out the characters who perform at the Dolly Parton night and incorporating them more into the crux of the story. (In fact, when I read the book I wished they had done more with that aspect of the story.)
3. A streamlined story with less focus on boys.
While I really loved the character of Mitch in the book, it made sense to remove him from the movie and shifted the focus away from boys as a major focal point/foil to Willowdean’s self-discovery and towards an inner reflection based on societal perceptions.
4. The mother-daughter reconciliation is better thanks to Jennifer Aniston.
Whether you or not you like Rachel (oops I mean Jennifer Aniston), she brings vulnerability and depth to the character of Willowdean’s mom, Rosie, a former winner of the Miss Teen Bluebonnet who now runs the pageant. Because of this, and because of certain small changes the movie made to the story, the reconciliation between Willowdean and her mother was more poignant and satisfying than in the book.
Last, but not least, is the character of Willowdean. In the book she is not just flawed, sometimes she is downright unlikable, which is intentional and makes her a very realistic character. We can all be unlikable at times and I know I upped the unlikable quotient as a teen. However, like Aniston, actress Danielle Macdonald brings an extra bit of pixie dust to the role. I don’t know how better to describe it. While Willowdean still frustrates and angers both viewers and herself, Macdonald manages to make you still love her, actually, you almost love her because of her flaws and not despite them. Whereas in the book, it felt the other way around.
Let’s chat: Anyone else read the book and/or see the movie? Would love to know your thoughts!