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A-Ron’s Film Rewind Series Presents: Steel Magnolias – The 30th Anniversary

A-Ron’s Film Rewind Takes You Back To Truvy’s Beauty Salon With A Star Studded Cast To Celebrate The Anniversary And The Impact It Still Has 30 Years Later. Having Seeing The Film In It’s Entirety For The First Time Was A Treat. 

The five women at the center of “Steel Magnolias” are the embodiment of Hollywood royalty: Sally Field, Olympia Dukakis, Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton and Julia Roberts. These women are Hollywood’s elite and are the steel magnolias of the story. The title “Steel Magnolias” describes the women as delicate as a magnolia flower, and as tough as steel. 

They are Southern belles who are dippy on the outside but strong enough inside to survive any challenge, of which in this film there are many. At first we are not aware of impending tragedy, however, because the movie sticks so successfully to its comic dialogue.

This November “Steel Magnolias” will celebrate it’s 30 anniversary. As an early treat TCM, host Ben Mankiewicz and Regal Cinemas held a three day special screening of the film. I attended one of the screenings and got to see the film in it’s entirety for the first time and what a treat it was. I knew certain scenes here and there but never got to view it from start to finish and I knew it was a tear jerker but I didn’t realize how genuinely funny it was. 

“Steel Magnolias” is an ensemble piece set in a small town in Louisiana. The main characters are a simple, plain young woman (Daryl Hannah) who is hired by a local hairdresser (Dolly Parton) to work in her shop called Truvy’s; a homemaker(Sally Field) whose daughter (Julia Roberts) is about to be married; and two rich older women, one a happy widow (Olympia Dukakis) and the other a tyrannical old bat (Shirley MacLaine), whose well-hidden heart is, of course, really mush.

Much less focused is the men in their lives, “Alien” star Tom Skerritt, as the father of Julia Roberts and husband to Sally Field. He spends much of his time trying to chase pigeons from his trees and the rest of his time grinning benevolently. The recently passed away Sam Shepard, is Dolly Parton’s husband who lays abed in depression many days and then gets a job on an offshore oil rig that keeps him away for seven days at a spell. Dylan McDermott is Julia Roberts fiancée who is a pleasant nonentity who gets upstaged, and lost track of entirely. 

But the main focus of the film is the relationship between Field and Roberts, a domineering mother and her strong-willed daughter, who is physically weak from being plagued with diabetes. “Steel Magnolias” is owned by the woman. This is their picture. The women cook and sew, they fight, make up, hug each other and cry. Of course they get their hair done at Truvy’s. And when tragedy strikes they have the strength to grieve and smile through their tears.

One of the big scenes in the movie is a brief, heartbreaking monologue by Sally Field, who asks God the question that is often uppermost in all of our minds: “Why?” The way she asks it, and the words she uses, are tremendously effective, and we are moved. Sally Field screamed into a pillow for hours before this scene so her voice would be raw in order to be more evocative. It’s a scene that leads to tears, but the tears are followed by a great big laugh. That’s what’s so charming and endearing about “Steel Magnolias”, even 30 years later. 

All the charm and laughs isput together in a ham-fisted direction by veteran filmmaker Herbert Ross. Director of “Funny Lady”, “The Goodbye Girl”, “Footloose”, “The Secret Of My Success”, “My Blue Heaven” and “Undercover Blues”. Ross’ film is adapted from Robert Harling’s original moving play that was written as a tribute to his own mother and sister and the manner in which they dealt with personal tragedy. His award-winning stage play is set entirely in the local hair salon, where the women share their life stories, problems, gossip and share their griefs. Harling’s and Ross’ screen adaptation opens up the setting to take in the small town, it’s neighbors, and events from weddings to funerals. 

It’s a surprise that only Julia Roberts scooped an Oscar nomination. Virtually an unknown Roberts was only 20 years old at the time of production. While Meg Ryan was initially under contract to play Shelby (the role played by Julia Roberts), but the producers let her out of contract to play Sally in “When Harry Met Sally…” in 1989. Winona Ryder was also considered but deemed too young. “Steel Magnolias” would put Roberts on the map, but her next film the following year would set her off into the stratosphere of stardom in Garry Marshall’s “Pretty Woman”.

When actress Bette Davis saw the off-Broadway play, she thought it would be a great film for her, envisioning herself, Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor. However, when she contacted the rights holders for the movie adaptation, she found out that they had already intended to cast much younger actresses.

Herbert Ross had lost his first wife Nora Kaye in 1987, only two years before the film’s release. His harsh treatment of the actors is believed to be the effect of his wife’s death. Shirley MacLaine had to tell him that he’d been behaving badly since Nora’s death, and it wasn’t respectful to her or to the other actors. After a poor take, Herbert Ross reprimanded Dolly Parton and asked her if she could act. She replied “No, but it’s your job to make me look like I can!”. Both Sally Field and Shirley MacLaine said in an interview that Herbert Ross was very difficult to work with, telling the main lead actresses they couldn’t act, and singling out Julia Roberts in particular, to the point that she would be left in tears.

“Steel Magnolias” was deemed a box office hit, earning $95 million in theaters. The film was released on Blu-ray through the boutique label Twilight Time, on September 11, 2012 and time has since gone out of print.

What gives the movie its energy is the star power involved. All the actors here are great in their roles and if it’s any indication by the reaction of the women in my anniversary screening. “Steel Magnolias” has left a lasting impression, no matter if your coming back to re-visit Truvy’s or discovering it for the first time. Having seen it in it’s entirety for the first time, it’s clear that it’s as beautiful as a magnolia but tough as steel. 

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros lives on the beautiful island of Maui. He is a member of The Hawaii Film Critics Society, movie critic for Maui Watch, a commentator and cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, learning about movies from his Grandfather and being self taught.

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