In 1989 Robert Harling’s play was released as a film starring Julia Roberts, Olympia Dukakis, Shirley MacLaine, Sally Field, Dolly Parton, and Darryl Hannah. It was a big success and introduced Julia Roberts as the star she was about to become. Now the play/film has been remade with an all-black cast. Steel Magnolia, this time directed by Kenny Leon (A Raisin in the Sun – 2008), tells the tale of six very different women in Louisiana who are there for each other through good times and bad.
Truvy’s Beauty Spot is owned by Truvy (Jill Scott – Why Did I Get Married?, Why Did I Get Married Too?) and M’Lynn (Queen Latifah – Chicago, The Bone Collector), her daughter Shelby (Condola Rashad – from television’s Smash), Ouiser (Alfre Woodard – Primal Fear, Beauty Shop), Clairee (Phylicia Rashad – from television’s The Cosby Show), and Truvy’s employee, Annelle (Adepero Oduye – Pariah, Half Nelson) all gather there often to have their hair done. This is not just a beauty parlour, but a safe place where these women gather to talk and share life’s highs and lows. It is a place of laughter and tears.
Shelby is getting married to Jackson (Tory Kittles – Phone Booth, Olympus Has Fallen) so the activity around Truvy’s Beauty Spot is off the hop. The women are there daily getting their nails, toenails and hair done for the wedding. M’Lynn has always worried about her only daughter as she is a diabetic and has a chronic kidney disease. Shelby is worried about her marriage as she has been told that she should not have kids due to her health. Like she has been all her life Shelby stubbornly does as she pleases.
It is a very difficult thing to remake a beloved film. You are up against all the expectations that people have from the opening credits. They want to feel about it the very same way they did about the original film, which is virtually impossible. The smartest thing to do is do things differently without changing the bones of the picture. In other words, avoid a karaoke version of the original.
While director Leon does not achieve the level of film the original managed to it is definitely worth a watch. He focuses on the reputed strength of Southern women and the all-star cast is certainly up to the task. While Alfre Woodard certainly is no Shirley MacLaine (hers was an impeccable Ouiser) she is lovable as the crabby character. Queen Latifah’s M’Lynn personifies strength. She is the strong one for her entire family keeping them all pointed forward.
Unlike the original where this Steel Magnolia fails is it is not the type of film that you can watch over and over. Once is plenty. It is not great, but not bad either. Good try though.