*/**** Image B Sound B Extras D+
starring Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah
screenplay by Robert Harling, based on his play
directed by Herbert Ross
by Walter Chaw Submitted for your approval, shrill, neo-Tennessee Williams actress-posturing from the pantheon of late-'80s harpies, featuring a special martyr performance from a Julia Roberts just months away from achieving sociopathic superstardom as a high-priced whore in Pretty Woman. Not being able to relate to Herbert Ross's demographically-precise Steel Magnolias in any way, I nevertheless see in its popularity an opportunity for introspection about how little I actually understand other peoples' tastes. From my vantage, Steel Magnolias is two hours of nattering and bon mots set in a home-salon run by Truvy (Dolly Parton, the very definition of down-home warmth and genuineness), assisted by dizzy Arnelle (Daryl Hannah), and frequented by diabetic Shelby (Roberts), her mother M'Lynn (Sally Field), happy widow Clairee (Olympia Dukakis), and cranky widow Ouiser (Shirley MacLaine). Ouiser basically stalks around swearing like a sailor and getting shat on by birds, Clairee floats on momentum won (and fast flagging) from Moonstruck, and M'Lynn turns into MacLaine from Terms of Endearment. My favourite is when she force-feeds Shelby a glass of orange juice in a vision of Hell I'd like to one day mash-up with the brainwashing sequence from A Clockwork Orange. Along the way, the young ones become pregnant, a stray man wanders through now and again, and each of the grey old iron ladies gets a moment to demonstrate her humanity and humour in the face of life's little, and big, tragedies.