Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Steel Magnolias the movie

We picked up some 2-for-1 movies at Walmart this week, and one was Steel Magnolias. The 2fer with it was Sleepless in Seattle; the other 2fer we picked up was Jerry Maguire/A Few Good Men.

I first came across Steel Magnolias when I bought the play script while in New York City sometime in the 1980s. I read it in the car while my dad drove back to Houston from NYC, and I cried like a baby. I couldn't wait to see the play, which I am pretty sure I did, probably at The Alley Theatre. I just googled it - the play came out in 1987 and was produced at the Alley in 1989, so yeah I'm pretty sure I saw it there.

The movie came out in 1989, and as usual, was Hollywoodized a little but maintained the core of the play and most of its great lines, being about the friendship of 5 women in a small Louisiana town. In the play, the action all takes place in the hair salon, and while Shelby is a central plot device, she isn't the main character. She isn't really the main character in the movie either, but she has a larger presence and the movie seems to revolve around her life and death. There are no men in the play either - all the action we see in the movie comes either from the dialog inside the salon or from the screenwriter's imagination.

The movie does feature some of my favorite actors of all time - Sally Fields, Darryl Hannah, Julia Roberts, and Dolly Parton, and while not my favorites, Olivia Dukakis and Shirley MacLaine are marvelous in their roles.

The central theme is still the strength of the friendships among the women. Sally Fields plays M'Lynn, the mother of Julia Roberts' character Shelby. Dolly Parton's Truvy is the hair salon proprietor, where Darryl Hannah's character Annelle gets a job. Olivia Dukakis and Shirley MacLaine are local resident widows. We see each of them through the stories and gossip they share together at the salon (and in the movie, also at weddings, parties and the funeral). Shelby is getting married at the beginning, and we learn that she is diabetic and her doctor has told her her body probably won't survive having children.

The time period is over a number of years - Shelby proves the doctor wrong and has a child, but her kidneys fail and she needs a transplant. M'Lynn provides the kidney, but it's too little too late.

Annelle comes to town penniless and homeless since her husband left her and took everything - over a period of time, she changes and grows and tries a number of lifestyles. Truvy has an adult son who is wild, and a husband who is not there for her - she is optimistic, patient and supportive, but has needs of her own. The widows each have their own stories as well, of being the surviving spouse and also of being survivors. It's their willingness each to listen to the others and be there, be a supportive shoulder for each other, that makes the plot.

Be prepared with a full box of tissues because the end will knock you to your knees sobbing if you aren't careful. Even in the play - where the death scene does not take place onstage, but only in retrospect through dialog at the salon after the funeral - I was reduced to tears, so you can only imagine watching the family go through it, including the teenage brothers, the father and the young husband.

On Netflix I originally rated it 4 stars, but I'm changing it today to 5.

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