Laughter, tears, joy and tragedy befall a group of Southern women in Steel Magnolias; a satisfyingly involving story of strength of friendship and celebration of women. Sporting a splendid cast of leading ladies and drama that’s peppered with comedy, Steel Magnolias has you laughing one minute and crying the next( and that’s what is so great about it.) Opened up from it’s stage setting, you have one beautiful movie.
In the Louisiana town of Chinquapin Parish; a group of women go through life’s ups and downs together, often in the local beauty salon. The women are no-nonsense mother M’Lynn Eatenton( Sally Field) , her spirited, type one diabetic daughter Shelby(Julia Roberts), beauty salon owner Truvy Jones( Dolly Parton), elegant widow Clairee Belcher(Olympia Dukakis), embittered and acidic grouch Ouiser Boudreaux (Shirley MacLaine) and new in town wallflower Annelle Dupuy( Daryl Hannah) . The film begins on the wedding of Shelby to lawyer Jackson( Dylan McDermott). Despite Shelby experiencing a hyperglycaemic shock in the morning, she is helped by her mother and friends and the wedding goes wonderfully. Meanwhile, Clairee and Ouiser spar constantly even though deep down they are close friends. Annelle goes through numerous changes, first from shy, woman child to more confident and sassy then overly zealous. Truvy has to contend with her husband Spud(Sam Shepard) being out of work and not showing her much in the way of affection. The big news is that Shelby decides to have a baby, despite the difficulties it could have on her body. M’Lynn is worried about her daughter’s health and isn’t exactly thrilled when Shelby announces her pregnancy. Shelby’s father Drum(Tom Skerritt) is happy for her and to an extend M’Lynn is, though the maternal terror she feels is still nagging at her as she comes around to the idea of it. Shelby gives birth to a baby boy, but tragedy may lie ahead for this wilful young lady. Through the tribulations of life, the Southern Belles band together with support, wisdom and a shoulder to cry on as they live up to the title of being as beautiful as flowers but tough and resilient when the occasion calls for it.
Herbert Ross is on hand for sensitive direction and a feeling of genuine care for the source material, that opens out the original play setting effectively. He shows great affinity for fleshing out these fascinating women and all that they go through. These are the kinds of characters it’s easy to warm to as you can more often than not, see something of yourself in each of them. Yes you can argue that the film knows to manipulate emotions and does have sentiment, but since when is that actually a bad thing? Steel Magnolias earns the laughs and tears because of its excellence in terms of characters and feelings. I don’t mind things being weepy or sentimental, as long as they do it with style and are well executed( which this movie definitely is.) I think it’s unfair to just refer to it as a chick flick, as it has a lot more going for it than just that label. For one, it’s a celebration of women’s strength and unity in times of crisis that truly knows how to move the audience. And the humour, which is plentiful, goes alongside the more serious stuff nicely. Both compliment the other and know how to really impress the audience in this drama about how friendship can get you through the tough times and sometimes laughter and tears do mix. It’s pretty impossible not to get swept into the dramas and events of Steel Magnolias; it’s an emotional but rewarding ride that is peppered with nice humour and it’s heart being firmly in the right place. Seriously, if you don’t shed not one tear during this movie, your tear ducts have clearly been removed or you’ve got a swinging brick where your heart and compassion should be. A gentle yet well suited score really benefits Steel Magnolias and goes along efficiently with the big occasions the film covers, from wedding to Christmas and then Easter.
One of the finest assets in Steel Magnolia’s arsenal is the sublime cast of mainly women. Here’s a group of actresses clearly relishing these relatable and well drawn characters that they breathe great life into. Heading things is the ever impressive Sally Field who truly shines in her dependable way and gets to display the full gamut of feelings. She’s got the varying emotions of her character just right from deep love for her daughter to grave seriousness, immense strength and tenderness in the face of tragedy. Field has always been great at playing motherly characters and she doesn’t disappoint here with a performance that ranks up there as one of her finest, particularly in a late devastating scene that will move even the hardest of hearts. Seriously, Field truly gives it her all as an opinionated yet caring mother terrified of what might happen to her frail daughter. Julia Roberts, who was a year away from super stardom and following memorable work in Mystic Pizza, is beautifully vibrant, genuine and vulnerable as the frail Shelby, who doesn’t want to let her medical condition rule her life and takes drastic action despite warnings of what it could do. The character could have been too much of a martyr, but Roberts wonderfully avoids that with a wilful, delicate and passionate performance that showcases her undeniable star charisma and ability. A lot of the humour is derived from an on form Shirley MacLaine, who spits out bitchy one liners with relish and feeling. You’ll definitely have fun watching her as the town’s meanie who is actually a lot more caring than she cares to let on. Backing her up in sassy fashion is Olympia Dukakis, who is a hoot as the classy but not above fun Clairee. MacLaine and Dukakis obviously enjoy working together as their characters clash often but then make up in often humorous ways. Dolly Parton adds pearls of wisdom and an infectious exuberance and optimism that only she can provide. It’s a treat seeing the multi talented Parton here. Daryl Hannah, decked out in gawky glasses and coltish demeanour, provides laughs and a certain homespun set of foibles. Her character is always changing but her heart is always there and Hannah plays that splendidly. As the women are so indomitable and cover most of the film with their stories, the men are relegated to the sidelines. Though saying that, Tom Skerritt gets quite a number of fine moments to shine in naughty fashion, while Sam Shepard has a fine scene opposite Dolly that’s truly touching. Dylan McDermott is unfortunately saddled with a part that really doesn’t ask for much except being a handsome suitor to Shelby.
Heartfelt, bittersweet and brilliantly acted and scripted, Steel Magnolias is a sensational production that makes you feel so many different things. I wish you all a great time with this gem of a movie that truly touches you, makes you laugh and is enjoyable.