Title: Steel Magnolias
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director: Herbert Ross
Writer: Robert Harling
Music: Georges Delerue
Cinematography: John A. Alonzo
Kevin J. O’Connor
Based on Robert Harling’s play, which is inspired by his own life story, the film version of STEEL MAGNOLIAS is directed by the schmaltz-brewing old-timer Herbert Ross. Emboldened by a pronounced female-centred cast, its narrative gaily situates in a Louisiana parish, where a palsy-walsy clique of (all-white) residents builds up rapport and strong support during the twist of fate, befalls the central Eatenton family.
The film starts from the perspective of an outsider, an gauche young woman Annelle Dupuy (an uglified Hannah) arrives in town on the wedding day of Shelby (Roberts), the eldest daughter of M’Lynn (Field) and Drum Eatenton (Skerritt, a delightful comic relief), to work for Truvy Jones (Parton) in her beauty salon. Soon it turns out that Shelby suffers from type 1 diabetes, which implies that pregnancy will subject her life into great danger. If the couple wants children, adoption might be a wiser option, but no, that never gonna happen, Shelby is opinionated in her regressive determination to have a child of her own with a side-note faintly insinuates that perhaps, it is also what her husband Jackson (McDermott) wants despite the huge risk, their marital undertow only alluded during the women folk’s regular saloon gossip, and any slant from their opposite sex has been maximally sidestepped (the original play has no male characters in the plot), and Jackson evidently doesn’t come off as a model husband, but what comes to fore is the relationship between M’Lynn and Shelby, a mother’s completely-selfless affection to her daughter (including donating one of her kidneys) Vs. a young woman’s death-defying conviction to become a mother on her own term (latently also to ameliorate her marriage snag), although in hindsight, the latter descends to borderline injudiciousness, but quite tallies with the ethos of its time.
Thankfully there are more upbeat subplots, which include a coruscating widow-duo, a graceful Clairee (Dukakis), once was married to the late former mayor, and a cantankerous Ouiser (MacLaine, a salient transformation in her appearance to enhance her senility), they banter, trade repartee, bicker, make up, both are sprightly and wonderfully larger-than-life; whereas Annelle also says goodbye to her own troubled past, and finds solace in religion and soon a new husband with a baby on the way; only the relation between a generically spirited Truvy and her offish hubby Spud (Shepard) doesn’t pan out effectively in the final product.
STEEL MAGNOLIAS is a springboard to leapfrog Julia Roberts into stardom, earns her the very first Oscar nomination at the age of 22 over the more prestigious distaff thespians, still, how can one not be petrified to watch Field’s mind-blowing flare-up in the cemetery one-take and in the next second, not get wryly bemused by Dukakis’ off-kilter humor to swerve the mood back from abysmal heartbreak? According to my book, a more Oscar-deserving supporting player is the consistently fiery MacLaine, a recalcitrant rebel and nothing can hold her back! By contrast, a dewy Robert only outshines others by design in her one-off diabetes attack sequence.
In all fairness, this female-skewing small-town melodrama hits the right spot as a life-affirming motion picture which appeals to a much more overlooked demography, but it is also stalled by its morally provincial material and a slightly over-honed happy-clappy tone to some extent.