Steel Magnolias (Herbert Ross, 1989)
Category: Sad women-centric movies. Statistics tell us that there are pretty much exactly the same number of men and women living on this planet. (I’m not sure I agree with this though; I generally notice a lot more women walking down the street than men.) Yet for a long time women were considered to be inferior to men in just about every way that did not involve giving birth and doing the dishes. Nowadays, most of the previous inequities between men and women have been redressed, but there are understandably still a lot of feelings going on in the female community. These feelings have been on display in such films as Stepmom and Beaches. (Note: this can also be classified as a movie about diabetes. Ohhhhhh boy.)
My familiarity with this issue: Helloooooo ladies.
But seriously though, I generally don’t watch a lot of these types of movies. I didn’t even know what “steel magnolias” meant until Aly Seeberger, daughter of a Southerner and friend of the blog, informed me: “It’s a thing that is specific to Southern women. Basically everything can be awful and terrible and they don’t even show it, and they’re beautiful and always look fine but they are really, really tough. Hence, steel magnolias.” Well kiss my grits, don’t those Southerners have a way with cool phrases.
For some insight on this genre of film, I consulted Allie Hagan, former women’s studies major and friend of the blog. She said, “Movies like Steel Magnolias are basically like porn for crying. It’s like, filmmakers know there are certain things that women need to get them going (in terms of crying), and they just do the same things over and over. Weddings, death, Southern women carrying on through hard times. Wedding cakes shaped like armadillos. That’s a big one.” I’m interested to see how that possibly is a thing, ever. She concluded, “There are movies that are just sad for the sake of being sad, and that’s what Steel Magnolias is.” Jackpot.
Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Revolving around Truvy's Beauty Parlor in a small parish in modern-day Louisiana, Steel Magnolias is the story of a close-knit circle of friends whose lives come together there.” (The rest of that plot summary is way too detailed and annoying to reprint. I may soon ditch this section. Each plot summary makes me mad in a different way.)
What I thought of the movie: It’s not for me. Don’t get me wrong, there were times when I acknowledged that the movie had a certain charm. But Allie’s point about the movie being “sad for the sake of being sad” was spot-on. It’s all so forced and hokey and manipulative. Some of that might have to do with how dated the movie feels, some of that might be that I am empirically not in the target market for this movie. (I did, however, quite enjoy the wedding cake shaped like an armadillo. Well done, Hagan.)
The film is populated by a ton of familiar actresses, who inhabit the film with varying degrees of success and authenticity. (I particularly liked how they put Daryl Hannah’s character in horn-rimmed glasses at the beginning of the movie, to try to make her out to be some kind of ugly duckling. As if that would overshadow the fact that she’s like bomb hot.) Say what you will about Dolly Parton’s chestal region, but she’s not much of an actress. But it would be hard for anyone to overcome the trite script here. I don’t know how Southern women really talk around the beauty parlor, so I don’t know if the dialogue was unrealistic or just merely annoying. There’s more clunky forced expository dialogue and faux-meaningful aphorisms than you can shake a stick at, or whatever. Up North we get right to the point. (HEY SPOILERS NOW etc.) Furthermore, the plot is fairly predictable; as soon as they mentioned that Shelby (Julia Roberts) was a diabetic, I knew she was a goner. We diabetics are like the black kids in horror movies: always the first to go.
How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: As noted earlier, before watching the movie I was really excited about the diabetes angle. It’s always good to see famous diabetic role models out there aside from Chicago Bears quarterback and known douchebag Jay Cutler. However, and this is almost certainly due to the advances in diabetes treatment in the decade or so in between the movie’s release and my own diagnosis, I couldn’t relate to the movie’s depiction of the disease. At the beginning of the movie, Shelby experiences low blood sugar, but like REFUSES to eat the candy and drink the juice offered to her. Those of you who have experienced low blood sugar can relate to me when I say that, when I experience it, I eat everything in sight, edible or not. So that was weird.
A major part of the movie is the displeasure that Shelby’s mother M’Lynn (Sally Field) expresses about Shelby’s pregnancy, due to the dangers inherent in diabetic women becoming pregnant. Again, this is probably a relic of the times, and I have no doubt of its veracity (Robert Harling wrote the play on which the film was based in response to the death of his sister, a diabetic). The point here is that it’s a different diabetes we’re dealing with here. Which was unfortunate for me because that was the only real link I had going with this movie.
How I felt after the movie ended: It didn’t really affect me. Let me reiterate that there were some genuinely nice, real moments in this movie. But on the whole, it just didn’t work for me. Earlier I mentioned that I felt Steel Magnolias was a manipulative movie. I suppose all movies are "manipulative." We willingly surrender ourselves to them in order to be made to feel a certain way, even though we know they’re not real. But, in the end, some movies manipulate less nakedly, more realistically, more profoundly than others. And some are just sad for the sake of being sad.