A good movie can evoke raucous laughter or endless tears, but a truly great film can make you laugh uncontrollably even during the sorrowful moments. Set in a small Louisiana town, Steel Magnolias narrates the resiliency of six friends through life, death, and moving on. With its all-star cast, the 1989 film tells the story of Shelby, M’Lynn, Truvy, Ouiser, Clairee, and Annelle. The movie was a launching pad for the careers of both Roberts (who received a Golden Globe for her performance as Shelby) and a young Dylan McDermott, who plays her husband.
When the film opens, most of the women find themselves in close radius of a life change. Shelby is getting married, her mother M’Lynn (Sally Fields) is nervous about Shelby leaving home, Clairee’s (Olympia Dukakis) husband recently passed away, and Annelle’s (Daryl Hannah) husband stole all her money and went on the lamb after some trouble with the law.
On Shelby’s wedding day, the women are gossiping in Truvy’s (Dolly Parton) salon, while Shelby’s father is scaring birds out of a tree with fireworks. Their accents sound like the sipping of ice cold sweet tea, and Shelby raves over her wedding colors of “blush and bashful” a.k.a. pink and pink. From this, the film may seem like nothing more than a movie about nosy southern ladies. However, viewers soon learn of Shelby’s hesitancy to get married, as her Type I diabetes has made it unsafe for her to have children.
In the late ’80s, having children as a diabetic was strongly dissuaded to women by doctors. Not only does the stress of the actual pregnancy wreak havoc on your body (as seen when Shelby needs a kidney transplant), but the energy required to raise a child imposes more lifelong stress. At the time of the film’s release, pregnancy complications for diabetics was a relevant, but largely undiscussed, issue for young women looking to begin families. Robert Harling, the writer of the play on which the film is based, cited the personal experience of his sister’s death from the same illness as inspiration for the story.Over the course of the film, after Shelby decides to have a child against medical advice, the six women, including the persnickety Ouiser (Shirley MacLaine), find ways to support her journey to motherhood. M’Lynn is frustrated with this reckless choice, as it puts Shelby’s health at risk, but she embraces the child as a demonstration of Shelby’s perseverance.
The cultural mark of this work of cinematic gold lies in its relevance, both at the time of its release and now. Regarding the medical realities depicted, its place in the 1980s was one of honest storytelling about life with diabetes, specifically for women. Beyond that, the other characters are facing relatable daily issues, dealing with the ups and downs of relationships, platonic and otherwise. Today, although modern medicine has cleared a path for diabetic women to have safe pregnancies, the theme of female friendship remains.
Although Steel Magnolias includes moments of the gals gossiping in the hair salon, there’s no climatic fight over a man, backstabbing, endless shopping montages, or nonsense arguments. It provides a refreshing reprieve from the harmful tropes commonly expressed by female friendships in film. The women are unequivocally supportive of one another, from start to finish. Through one-liners and pleas to the heavens, the women navigate life, love, and, eventually, fatality.
At Shelby’s funeral, as M’Lynn angrily screams about the injustice in her daughter’s death and how she wants to hit something, her friends surround her. Like the rest of the film, even the heaviest of topics are coated with humor and heartfelt moments. In a quick turn of tone from somber to hysterical, Clairee exclaims, “Here! Hit this!” She grabs Ouiser and continues, “Go ahead, M’Lynn! Slap her! Knock her lights out!” There’s protesting from Ouiser before an eerie pause, and just like that, the women are laughing again. It’s a touching moment that plays out beautifully on the big screen.
As the film closes, the women and their families are having an Easter egg hunt when a pregnant Annelle is rushed to the hospital to have her baby, Shelby (named in honor of her late friend), and a full transformation has come to fruition. The young hairdresser, who appeared in the opening sequence as a sweet and fragile woman, has shed her former life, found a new love, and it about to birth a new life. From clumsy and afraid to steadfast and God-fearing, Annelle has finally blossomed into a strong, yet beautiful, steel magnolia.END
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createdAt:Fri, 01 Nov 2019 17:31:34 +0000