Follow TV Tropes


Film / Steel Magnolias

Go To
1989 film cast. From the back left: Annelle, Ouiser, Clairee, Shelby, Truvy and M'Lynn

Steel Magnolias is a 1989 Dramedy film starring Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis, Dolly Parton, Daryl Hannah, and Julia Roberts. It is adapted from the 1987 off-Broadway play of the same name by Robert Harling.

A 2012 made for television remake with an all African American cast was made by Lifetime, directed by Kenny Leon and starring Queen Latifah, Jill Scott, Alfre Woodard, Adepero Oduye, Condola Rashad and Phylicia Rashad.

The story revolves around the lives of the employees and patrons of Truvy's Beauty Parlor in Louisiana. The main characters are:

  • M'Lynn Eatenton: A long-suffering housewife and mother. Caring and supportive, but often protective and stern. Played by Sally Field in the 1989 film, and Queen Latifah in the 2012 film.
  • Shelby Latchery: M'Lynn's daughter, who gets married at the start of the story. She's bouncy and upbeat, but has health complications thanks to her diabetes. Played by Julia Roberts in the 1989 film and Condola Rashad in the 2012 film.
  • Advertisement:
  • Truvy Jones: The owner of the beauty parlor. Living by the words, "There's no such thing as natural beauty", Truvy often indulges in gossip with her patrons, and prides herself on being the best hairdresser around. Played by Dolly Parton in the 1989 film and Jill Scott in the 2012 film.
  • Annelle Dupuy: The newest hairstylist at Truvy's, desperate for a job after her husband ran out on her. Shy and timid, but starts to come out of her shell with Truvy's help. Played by Daryl Hannah in the 1989 film and Adepero Oduye in the 2012 film.
  • Ouiser Boudreaux: A very wealthy, very sarcastic, very foul-tempered widow, who seems to live for her dog and to snark at the others. Played by Shirley MacLaine in the 1989 film and Alfre Woodard in the 2012 film.
  • Clairee Belcher: Another widow. Cheerful and friendly, but snarky enough to hold her own against Ousier, her best friend. Played by Olympia Dukakis in the 1989 film and Phylicia Rashad in the 2012 film.

The plot kicks off on Shelby's wedding day, when Annelle first comes to town and befriends the other five women. Together, the six women experience love, joy, sadness, loss and friendship as their lives begin to change all around them. Perhaps the most drastic change is when Shelby becomes pregnant, despite her doctor advising her against it due to her health. M'Lynn is terrified, and doesn't want Shelby to put her body through any more, but Shelby is determined to have her baby, realizing that no judge will let someone with her health records adopt one. M'Lynn knows she can't stop her, but worries that the risk may simply be too high.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The original stage play was a bit shorter than the films, only showed the core six characters (Truvy, M'Lynn, Shelby, Anelle, Clairee, and Ouiser), with everyone else being offstage, but discussed. It also only took place in one setting: the beauty shop. Both movies also added a couple of extra scenes of dialogue that didn't occur in the play.
  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: In the 1989 film version, Jackson and Drummond are watching over Shelby when the plug is pulled. However, the dialog is true to the play, and M'Lynn claims that they couldn't handle it and left. It's a key plot hole because M'Lynn states that men are supposed to be made of steel, but weren't.
    • However, both Jackson and Drummond leave just prior to Shelby actually slipping away. M'Lynn was the only one beside her daughter when she died.
  • Adoption Is Not an Option: Shelby has been told not to have children due to her severe diabetes. Jackson readily declares that they'll adopt as many children as they can, only to find that that no doctor or judge will okay it for the very same reason.
  • Adult Fear: Having to bury one's child.
  • All Gays Love Theater: Alluded to when Clairee says her nephew who came out to her snarkily told her all gay men love track lighting (and are all named Mark, Rick or Steve.) Achieves Brick Joke status when Ouiser says she loves her track lighting (installed by her nephew Steve.) But considering her character, her snark may have been a gag to get one over on Ouiser.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Shelby’s younger brothers Jonathan and Tommy annoy and embarrass her, doing things like coating her car with inflated condoms and assisting Drum with shooting firecrackers into the trees.
  • Babies Ever After/Birth/Death Juxtaposition: Annelle announces her pregnancy after Shelby's funeral and goes into labor as the film ends.
  • Beauty Inversion: The producers told Daryl Hannah they weren't sure she could play Annelle, saying she was too attractive. She showed up for her audition looking as frumpy as she could, and the security guard wouldn't let her in because he didn't recognize her.
  • Blasphemous Boast: Ouiser tells Shelby that "The only reason people are nice to me is because I have more money than God."
  • Bookends: The movie starts on Easter and ends on Easter five years later. The same music plays too.
  • Broken Bird: Annelle at the beginning is very emotional and shy, and clearly still reeling from her husband abandoning her.
  • Chatty Hairdresser: Truvy.
    Truvy: Time marches on and sooner or later you realize it is marchin’ across your face.
  • Converse with the Unconscious: M'Lynn talks to her daughter trying to get her to wake up from her diabetic coma. She ultimately dies.
  • Covert Pervert: Ouiser steals glances at the young high school flesh through her mirror.
  • Dead Guy Junior: After Shelby's funeral, Annelle announces her pregnancy to the other ladies and tells M'Lynn that the baby will be named after Shelby, out of thanks for inviting her to the wedding where she met her husband.
  • Deadpan Snarker: M'Lynn.
    Ouiser: It looks like you've been driving nails up your arm. What's going on here?
    Shelby: Shall we tell them, Mama?
    M'Lynn: Well, I guess we can't keep it a secret any longer. (beat) Shelby has been driving nails up her arm.
    • Truvy:
      "Nicest thing I can say about her is, all of her tattoos are spelled correctly."
    • Ouiser:
      "He's a real gentleman. I bet he takes the dishes out of the sink before he pees in it."
    • After Annelle gets off a good snap at Ouiser, Clairee approves, "Very good, Annelle! Spoken like a true smart-ass!"
  • The Determinator: Nothing will stop Shelby from becoming a mother. Unfortunately, this leads to her death when her son is a little over a year old as her body could not handle the strain of pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Disaster Dominoes: The final set of mishaps before the scene cuts to the wedding. Drum and the boys shoot a set of firecrackers into the trees to scare the birds (which deafens Drum for the next few hours), causing Ouiser’s dog Rhett to break loose. Ouiser accidentally slams the trunk on hundreds of Easter eggs, breaking them all. As M’Lynn, Shelby and Ouiser run towards the house, a bird flies overhead and poops on Ouiser.
  • Fanservice Extra: Multiple male examples. The "colour announcer" scene... which just happened to be in a sports team's changing room, and thus meant the appearance of several naked high school students. Ouiser does engage in a little Eating the Eye Candy. Clairee is Not Distracted by the Sexy.
  • Fashion Hurts: Truvy has this to say about shoes: "In a good shoe, I wear a size six, but a seven feels so good, I buy a size eight." Meaning she's a size eight but will squeeze down to a six for the right shoe.
  • Happy Holidays Dress: The "Miss Merry Christmas" wears a long, red dress with a white faux fur neckline and muff.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Clairee and Ouiser, paired with Vitriolic Best Buds, given the way they're always sniping at each other.
  • I Knew It!: invoked Annelle's reaction to Ouiser admitting she prays. Ouiser doesn't react well to her gloat.
  • Jerkass Realization: The normally short-tempered and sarcastic Ouiser makes a snide comment about how the sooner her body breaks down and she dies, the better. Then, she finds out Shelby's body really is breaking down, and she obviously feels terrible, and apologizes to Shelby.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Ouiser is rude, hotheaded, sarcastic and acts like she's Surrounded by Idiots. However, when push comes to shove, she really does care deeply for the other five, and every now and then, she even acts like it. Lampshaded by a conversation after Ouiser makes a particularly badly-timed snide remark.
    Ouiser: I'm sorry, Shelby. You know better than to listen to anything I say.
    Shelby: Oh, Miss Ousier, don't even worry about it.
    Ouiser: ...I'm a terrible person...
    Clairee: Oh, you are not, Ousier. You'd give that dog of yours a kidney if he needed one.
  • Misplaced-Names Poster: Six names, none of which are over the person to which they belong.
  • Mood Whiplash: M'Lynn shouting at her daughter's funeral is turned comedic when Clairee says that M'Lynn should hit Ouiser to feel better.
    Clairee: M'Lynn, you just missed the chance of a lifetime! Half of Chiquapin Parish'd give their eye teeth to take a whack at Ouiser!
  • New Old Flame: Ouiser's ex, Owen. "He was a good man. But I managed to run him off and marry one of two total deadbeats." Shelby ends up going to the same church as him, and makes it her mission to get him and Ousier together.
  • No Pronunciation Guide: If you've only read the play, not seen it, you could be forgiven for not knowing how the hell to say Ouiser. It's said like "wheezer," if you're curious.
  • The Oner: Late in the film, there's a forty-two second sequence where the camera pans from left to right as Jackson arrives home to a sobbing Jack jr. and walks through the house to find Shelby lying on the back porch beside the phone, unresponsive.
  • Outliving One's Offspring:
    • Truvy mentions that Ruth Robeline's son was killed in Vietnam.
    • M'Lynn outlives her daughter Shelby.
  • Parental Substitute: Truvy to Annelle, to the point where she refers to her as her "semi-daughter."
  • Perpetual Frowner: Ouiser.
  • Pet the Dog: There are times when Ousier shows she has a heart — her adoration of her dog, Rhett, for instance, and her genuine sympathy towards Annelle when she finds out Annelle's husband abandoned her. She also is very happy for Shelby when she has her baby, and grieves with the other when Shelby passes away.
  • Pink Means Feminine:
    Shelby: Pink is my signature color.
    • Insistent Terminology:
      Shelby: My colors are "blush" and "bashful."
      M'Lynn: Her colors are "pink" and pink."
      Shelby: My colors are "blush" and "bashful" Mama!note 
  • Pitbull Dates Puppy: Owen and Ouiser. He doesn't seem to mind, though.
    • It's strongly hinted that Ouiser is softer while dating Owen off screen.
  • Playing Gertrude: 42 year old (and looking much younger) Queen Latifah, who plays M'Lynn in the remake, is only 17 years older than Condola Rashad, who played Shelby, forcing viewers to essentially assume that she was a teen mom.
  • Please Wake Up: A prolonged version of this occurs when M'Lynn Eatonton is trying to rouse Shelby when she's in the hospital after her final diabetic episode. Not long after, she's taken off life support.
  • Race Lift: The entire cast in the 2012 remake.
  • Slice of Life: A lot of scenes are basically this, fitting a theme directly mentioned near the end, that "Life goes on".
  • Stealth Insult: This line from Annelle, after Ouiser insults her and her religious beliefs.
    Claire: Ousier, leave her alone!
    Truvy: Ouiser, have you no shame?
    Annelle: Oh, that's all right, Truvy. I love Miss Ouiser. I pray for her every day. Sometimes twice.
  • Steel Eardrums: Averted with Drum Eatenton when he launches a firecracker into a tree to scare away the birds for Shelby's reception. He winds up missing a few cues during the wedding, such as when to walk Shelby down the aisle and what the father of the the bride is supposed to say when the pastor says "who gives this woman in marriage?" Drum impulsively says "Her mother and I do!"
  • Tearful Smile: "Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion."
  • Time Skip: The movie take place over the course of five years.
  • Token Religious Teammate: Annelle is this by the second act. The other women all attend church, but only Annelle is terribly serious about her beliefs. When she's having labor pains at the conclusion, however, it's clear that she's loosened up her attitude, though remaining devout.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: The group's opinion of Shelby.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Ouiser with the other five, especially Clairee. She snarks at them and they all snark right back, but it's clear that they do genuinely consider her a friend. And in Ousier's own words...
    Ouiser: You may not believe it, but these are the dearest friends I have in this town.
  • Wedding Day: The first act of the film takes place on Shelby's wedding day, with numerous mishaps along the way, too many to list.
  • What Does She See in Him?: Even after 23+ years, Ouiser can not fathom why M'Lynn married Drum.
    Ouiser: You know, I used to think you were crazy for marrying that man. Then for a few years I thought you were a glutton for punishment. Now I realize you must be on some mission from God!
  • World of Snark: Everyone is a Deadpan Snarker in both movies, as in the original stage play.


Example of: