• Plaban Bagchi

Steel Magnolias Film Review

A simple yet intricate tale of motherhood, sisterhood and the tenderness of a strong woman


Director: Herbert Ross

Writers: Robert Harling (screenplay), Robert Harling (play)

Stars: Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis, Sally Field, Julia Roberts, Tom Skerritt, Dylan McDermott, Sam Shepard


Steel Magnolias

I am not an avid Broadway junkie, what with me being in India and globalization hitting me a little later than the rest of the world. Yet, this is the second southern play turned into a movie and starring Julia Roberts that I have had the privilege to watch and boy was it good. It must be said enough times that the seamless, organic ways in which this film visualizes and presents the strength of a woman in all her tenderness is the stuff of academics. For a film from 1889 (one year after my birth), it uses nothing but its dialogues, screenplay, actors and direction to communicate the depths of these subtle feeling and situations its main characters were going through. I mean what else would they use? Well, as someone exposed to modern cinema, I appreciated the simplicity of not banking of dramatic interludes, camera techniques or editing gimmicks to stress or enunciate certain emotions. The sheer art of film-making is the hero is this film.


Steel Magnolias

This is not a review that reveals the plot so no spoilers here, but without giving much away, I am going to attempt making you hungry for this film. Lets not get too technical on the tools of story telling or plot points or the hero’s journey (may be one other time). I simply marvel at them showcasing the lives of 6 suburban housewives with such grace and pain, that you understand the title of the film without much effort, once you are done with the film. 6 women, who seem grey at the beginning, gossiping, nosing around in other people’s business, complaining, killing all the fun around and yelling at their husbands; yet you do not seem to dislike them. The men in their lives, who love them but are so involved in their subtle manliness that they are unknowingly insensitive or selfish in their treatment of these women. However, it doesn’t seem forced or planted. It seems like everyone’s life. It seems true. They just never knew how to treat them or how much they love them, sons and fathers alike. These ladies love each other, they share their pains with each other and can say to each other, what they cannot say to anyone else. It is a band of sisters, going through life with its sugar amd salt, to the best of their abilities. And even in the face of tragedy, they face it with fear, strength, grace, total breakdown and even a laughter meltdown. The boys are also not abandoned by the story are thick skull, ignorant pillars of dumbness and testosterone but as sensitive beings who learn to express in the end. However, their strength falls short in front of the fierce tenderness of these women. I say this again because it needs to be said enough times how wonderfully the film has portrayed that a woman’s tenderness does not make her weak but only makes her stronger. The she loves and endures and follows thorough because she loves.


I must stress that all this has not been done with mushy film making, but has been inspired by the life and loss of the screen writer’s sister himself. The brilliant dialogues just flow like a river and tell you everything without even telling you anything specific in particular. The innocence with which these women love each other, get fed up of each other and yet support each other and even make each other laugh in mourning the loss of a loved one it nothing short of brilliant-timeless writing and I am guessing it is because the play writer is alsp the screenplay writer for this film. Sally field is the unrelenting spine of this film and Julia Roberts is amazingly innocent and even looks far too hideous at the cost of the character, something I must appreciate and attribute to simpler times. Dolly Parton is a breath of fresh air but Daryl Hanna, who most of us remember as a Viper from Kill Bill, is a revelation in her innocence and transformation from a scared new girl in town to a hippie to a bible wielding child of Christ. This is film has inspired me as a screenwriter. If nothing, at least, this film will enrich your life.

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