STEEL MAGNOLIAS (1989) – A film filled with fascinating females

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The following is my entry for the Girl Week 2016 blogathon, being hosted by Dell on Movies from Nov. 21-27, 2016. Click on the above banner, and read Dell’s and other bloggers’ takes on interesting female leads in movies!

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

So many movies are content to show killings, or even destructions of entire civilizations, with nary a shrug. One of the many virtues of Steel Magnolias is that it takes the time to show the importance of a single person in one’s life, and what a hole that person leaves when she dies.

That person is Shelby (Oscar-nominated Julia Roberts), who is based on the sister of playwright-turned-screenwriter Robert Harling. Like Shelby, Harling’s sister Susan suffered and eventually died from Type 1 diabetes, and he wrote this play-turned-movie as a way of dealing with his sister’s death.

The movie centers around soon-to-be newlywed Shelby and her female friends around town, all of whom frequently gather at the local salon for beauty treatments and (let’s face it) gossip. Truvy (Dolly Parton) runs the salon and hires milquetoast Annelle (Daryl Hannah) to work for her.

(Annelle’s characterization — at least the latter part of it — is about the only problem I have with this movie. Annelle begins as a very conservative Christian, owly eyeglasses and all. Then later in the movie, she loosens up considerably and transforms into — again, let’s face it — beautiful Daryl Hannah. But then after feeling guilty about acting so worldly, Annelle goes back to the conservative look and the owly eyeglasses again. I’m no woman, but I have to think that, once you’ve had the opportunity to turn into Daryl Hannah, you’d never want to look back.)

The salon’s customers include wisecracking Clairee (Olympia Dukakis), widow of the town’s late mayor and owner of the local radio station; and Clairee’s Frankensteinian friend Ouiser (Shirley MacLaine), who freely admits she has not been in a good mood for several decades. About the only local woman with whom Shelby does not always get along is her contentious mother M’Lynn (Sally Field), who does not approve of Shelby’s wanting to have a baby due to Shelby’s fragile physical state.

There are a few men in the story (you gotta love M’Lynn’s happily wacko husband Drum [Tom Skerritt]), but the movie’s centerpiece is the relationship between the women. The plot doesn’t advance far from its initial starting point, but the women are so fascinating that it doesn’t matter much.  Sometimes movies, especially play adaptations, can easily turn into to snoozy talkfests. But here, the dialogue truly enhances the characterizations, and the acting as well — there’s not a bad performance in the entire ensemble. These are well-defined, strong women whom you can easily imagine having lives of their own after the movie has ended.

Be prepared to laugh and (most definitely) cry at Steel Magnolias. And brace yourself for one of the most hilarious closing shots in any movie ever — in a scene that had to have been added for the movie, because it could never have been performed on a stage.