Making the Grades
I missed Steel Magnolias when it first released in 1989. But now the movie, based on a play by Robert Harling, who also wrote the screenplays for The First Wives Club, The Evening Star and Laws of Attraction, is releasing on a new digital format for another generation. While these ladies of Louisiana aren’t your upwardly mobile, style-obsessed Sex in the City kind of females, the types of friendships depicted in Steel Magnolias are the kind that have sustained real women through the ups and downs of everyday life, weddings, births, deaths and complicated relationships.
At the heart of the group is Truvy Jones (Dolly Parton), the owner of a home based beauty shop where the girls come for haircuts, facials, wax jobs and most importantly gossip. As M’Lynn (Sally Field) prepares for the wedding of her only daughter Shelby (Julia Roberts), she gathers at the salon with Shelby, Ouiser (Shirley MacLaine), Clairee (Olympia Dukakis) and Truvy’s new assistant Annelle (Daryl Hannah) to discuss the prospective groom (Dylan McDermott) and the antics of M’Lynn’s gun happy husband (Tom Skerritt).
As Southern belles, they feel an obligation to uphold and honor traditional values and activities. Although she complains vehemently about gardening, Ouiser still raises a plot full of tomatoes every year because that is what “Southern ladies do.” On the other hand, these women push the boundaries, particularly when Clairee becomes a color commentator for the local football team and charges into a locker room full of naked players for an interview.
The real value of their bond is displayed, however, when one of them faces the death of a loved one. These female characters (played by some of Hollywood’s biggest names when the movie released in 1989) reach out to one another even while dealing with personal struggles themselves.
Some brief sexual innuendo and comments, a car covered with inflated condoms and a smattering of profanities are the script’s biggest concerns. However, the film’s humor and tragedies will have audiences both laughing and crying at the inner steel-like strength displayed by these outwardly fragile blossoms.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Steel Magnolias.
How do these women support one another? What role does each play in their shared friendship? What strengths do they display?
How is the mother and daughter relationship portrayed? Why is M’Lynn reluctant to let her daughter grow up and make her own decisions? Why can it be difficult for some mothers to step back from their parenting roles and take on an adult relationship with their children?
How do the characters deal with death? What role can appropriate humor play in a time of sadness? How does Clairee help lighten the mood after the funeral?
How does Truvy treat her husband even when he chooses not to participate with her in many of the local activities? Is this kind of respect important in a marriage? Why is he hesitant to do more with Truvy? What does he do to show his affection?