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Film / Steel Magnolias

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

Steel Magnolias is a 1989 Dramedy film directed by Herbert Ross and 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-TV Movie 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.
  • 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.

Roberts earned her first Academy Award nomination for the 1989 film, its sole nomination.

This film provides examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: When Shelby is dealing with procedures for her kidneys, one of her brothers makes a crack about "The Tale of Two Kidneys" which Shelby finds amusing but not her father.
  • 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.
      • The fact that they leave only a few seconds before Shelby leaving them- in the film, isn't the same thing as leaving minutes or hours beforehand (as implied in the play).
  • Adaptational Name Change: Drum Eatenton's name is expanded to Thomas Drummond Eatenton in the 2012 remake.
  • 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.
  • Agony of the Feet: One of the Eatenton boys accidentally steps on his mother's foot as they make their way to seats at Shelby's wedding.
  • 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 (and their parents), doing things like coating her car with inflated condoms and assisting Drum with shooting firecrackers into the trees.
  • Artistic License Medicine: The portrayl of diabetes dips in and out of this trope; while the salon scene is an accurate portrayal of a hypoglycemic episode, it is still seen as overdramatic. It is also unclear whether or not Shelby's diabetes or kidney issues was a hinderance in her getting pregnant, as it is possible for diabetic women/people to have babies and be healthy. The remake makes it more clear that Shelby's issues stem more for her kidney function than diabetes.
  • Babies Ever After/Birth-Death Juxtaposition: Annelle announces her pregnancy after Shelby's funeral and goes into labor on Easter 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.
  • Bigger Is Better in Bed: Nancy Beth informs Shelby that Jackson is "one big-hangin' man". At Shelby and Jackson's wedding.
  • 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.
  • Career Versus Family: In a sense, Shelby wants to keep working as a nurse even after getting married to attorney Jackson, in contrast to her parents' protests that she "be kind to your circulatory system" and quit after the wedding. Downplayed in that their concern is justified due to her health issues, it's not a Stay in the Kitchen situation.
  • 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.
  • Creator Cameo: Robert Harling, who wrote the original play, portrays the minister at Shelby's wedding.
  • Daddy's Girl: Shelby is very close and affectionate with her father, even excusing his outrageous behavior to her mother and Ouiser. He takes her failing health and death pretty hard.
  • 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: They're Southern women. Of course they are!
    • 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."
    • Even Annelle gets her jollies in this regard:
      Ouiser:Oh! Well don't you expect me to come to one of your churches or one of those tent-revivals with all those Bible-beaters doin' God-only-knows-what! They'd probably make me eat a live chicken!
      Annelle: Not on your first visit!
      Clairee: Very good, Annelle! Spoken like a true smart-ass!
  • Demoted to Extra: Sammy only shows up at the wedding reception in the TV remake.
  • 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.
  • Don't Be Ridiculous: Used by Annelle at the end of the film to snark at Ousier, showing that she's finally truly settled in.
    Ousier: [about Annelle's church] Don't think I'll go to one of your tent revivals. Probably make me eat a live chicken!
    Annelle: Not on your first visit.note 
  • Dude, Not Funny!: Invoked by Ouiser, who isn't amused by being offered by Clairee to M'Lynn to hit.
    Ouiser: You are a pig from hell.
  • Easter Episode: The movie begins and ends on Easter over the span of five years with Shelby getting married in the opening scene and Annelle giving birth at the end.
  • Eleventy Zillion: Drum says he has to scare away "5 zillion" birds before Shelby's wedding.
  • 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.
    Clairee: They're eight and a half.
    Truvy: Perfect!
  • Firing in the Air a Lot: Drum is introduced shooting a blank-firing gun into the air so that the birds in the trees will fly away and so the wedding guests won't get pooped on.
  • Gossipy Hens: The main cast. When Annelle mentions a Dark and Troubled Past, Clairee and Truvy are more than eager for her to spill the beans.
  • Groin Attack: Referenced; when Drum sets off firecrackers causing Ouiser's dog Rhett to break loose, Ouiser shouts for Rhett to "Bite [Drum] in the balls!"
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Annelle and Truvy.
  • Happy Holidays Dress: The "Miss Merry Christmas" wears a long, red dress with a white faux fur neckline and muff.
  • Hard Truth Aesop: As M'Lynn being concerned about Shelby's pregnancy and the fallout shows, it doesn't matter if you think your child is making a mistake, if you're the parent, if you only mean well, or even if you're right... if your kid is an adult, they ultimately have a right to make their own choices, and you either have to back off or risk alienating them.
  • Heroic BSoD: Drum, to some extent when Shelby's health fails and she dies, Jackson is seen being walked by his parents looking catatonic after the funeral.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Clairee and Ouiser, paired with Vitriolic Best Buds, given the way they're always sniping at each other.
  • Irony: Shelby and Jackson can't adopt because of her health issues. So they have a biological child—which worsens her health and she dies; without the strain of pregnancy, she likely would have lived.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Annelle isn't a Jerkass per se, but one scene has her being a hardass Christian about booze to her boyfriend, but she makes a point that he is allowed to keep his booze at his house but not in hers. We're meant to take his side being annoyed with her religious zealousness but she makes a point that some things you do at your home, may not be welcome in another person's and she was right.
  • 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.
  • Knew It All Along: invoked Annelle's reaction to Ouiser admitting she prays. Ouiser doesn't react well to her gloat.
  • Misplaced-Names Poster: Six names, none of which are over the person to which they belong.
  • The Missus and the Ex: Nancy Beth Marmillion chats with Shelby over wedding cake about how hung Jackson is, implying that she used to go out with him in the past, to the annoyance of Shelby (who just married him).
  • Mood Whiplash: M'Lynn's despair after Shelby'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!
  • Morton's Fork: Discussed between M'Lynn and Shelby regarding Drum's shooting at the birds; either he alienates the entire neighborhood by firing his gun into the air, or the Eatontons are alienated because the birds pooped on the guests at Shelby's wedding reception.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Drum, the biggest purveyor of Black Comedy in the Eatenton household, is furious with one of his sons after he makes too many jokes about kidneys while M'Lynn is in surgery.
  • 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's favorite color is pink and it really shows in the church during her wedding with lots of pink flowers, pink carpet, and pink drapery. She's also buried in a pink suit.
    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.
  • 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 is black.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Annelle certainly cleans up nicely when Shelby invites her to her wedding, by wearing a lovely silver dress- that Shelby gives her to wear, and has her hair combed and softly pulled back with matching hairclips. She isn't even forced to give up her glasses while doing so.
  • Shown Their Work: Shelby suffers from Type 1 diabetes, and the film accurately portrays what someone with it goes through, such as needing juice to combat a low-blood sugar attacknote . It also indicates that Shelby's affliction is a relatively recent development, as sweating and shivering during hypoglycemia eventually goes away, leaving no warning signs — which makes sense during her death as she shows no signs before she dies.
  • Slice of Life: A lot of scenes are basically this, fitting a theme directly mentioned near the end, that "Life goes on".
  • Southern Belle: The entire cast in the original version.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Ruth Robeline's husband is still alive in the 2012 version; he ran off with her best friend instead of being killed in battle.
  • 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.note 
  • 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 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."
  • Those Two Guys: Shelby's brothers Tommy and Jonathan. Almost no distinction is given between the two and they practically function as a single character.
  • Time Skip: The movie take place over the course of three 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.
  • Unisex Name: Shelby can be a boy's or girl's name, which becomes a Plot Point when Annelle's child is named after 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.
  • 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.