Sunday, October 7, 2012

Queen Latifah Leads STEEL MAGNOLIAS Tonight on Lifetime

Steel Magnolias is not just a 1989 movie starring Sally Field, Dolly Parton and Julia Roberts, not just the Lifetime movie that airs tonight at 8 pm Central Time, starring Queen Latifah, Alfre Woodard and Phylicia Rashad. It's also a play. A very popular play, by a man named Robert Harling, who, as far as I know, has only written the one play, although he's done several screenplays, like Soapdish and The First Wives Club.

But it's Steel Magnolias that is Harling's calling card. The play is set entirely in a Louisiana beauty shop, a place where a bunch of ladies hang out all the time, shooting the breeze over shampoo and perms as well as life and love and friendship. The small-town setting and all-female cast makes it perfect for a whole lot of small-town and medium-town theatres, the kinds of places where they recognize these women and their beauty salon. So, no, Steel Magnolias doesn't get staged at the Goodmans and the Guthries and the Mark Taper Forums of the world, but in places like Bloomington, Monticello and Champaign instead.

It's not my favorite play, I have to admit, although it's always fun seeing how they manage enough plumbing to make a working hair salon on stage. But the situations are a little too sentimental for me, and the dialogue... Suffice it to say I'm not really into "I'd rather have thirty minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special," offered as a rule to live (or, actually, die) by. I'll just quote a more acerbic character in a different play and say, "Well, that's a stupid thing to do."

Still, Steel Magnolias has its fans, and the Lifetime movie has a talented cast who may just be able to pull the material out of its soggy moorings and give it some life. Queen Latifah is billed as the star, as you can see in the poster image at the top, and she's playing M'Lynn, the mom character Sally Field took on in the 1989 version. I can't imagine Queen Latifah going the trembling-chin, misty-eyed martyr route. Let's hope she gives M'Lynn some fire.

Alfre Woodard is always magic, and she's taking on Ouiser, the cranky one in the bunch who has all the best material, played by Shirley MacLaine in 89. Dolly Parton, another one who manages to make magic with inferior material, was Truvy, who runs the beauty salon, in the big-screen adaptation; that role is now played by singer-songwriter Jill Scott. Lifetime's cast also includes real mother and daughter Phylicia and Condola Rashad, even though they're not playing mother and daughter here. Instead, Phylicia is cheery Clairee, Ouiser's nemesis, and Condola is Shelby, M'Lynn's daughter, the self-sacrificing lamb who gets that terrible "thirty minutes of wonderful" line. Julia Roberts got an Oscar nomination for playing Shelby, and Condola may score an Emmy nod if she plays her cards right. The cast is rounded out by Adepero Oduye as clueless Annelle, taken under Truvy's wing to get her life straightened out.

So there you have it. If Steel Magnolias is your thing, you'll definitely want to try the one on Lifetime tonight at 8. Given the cast (seriously, Alfre Woodard is as good as it gets), it looks to be the best of all possible Steel Magnolias. You can see photos and video, including a preview, on Lifetime's site for the movie.


  1. Julie, your post calls up a host of memories, not necessarily connected with "Steel Magnolias":

    Remember when Julia Roberts was this brand-new face? invariably tagged as "you know Eric Roberts's sister, and she was in that Mystic Pizza thing," so this was her first big chance onscreen, and then came "Pretty Woman."

    Remember when you and I first saw Alfre Woodard, as the mother whose kid got mistakenly shot by a cop, in the second season of "Hill Street Blues"? and the next day we emailed each other, simultaneously asking "Who IS this amazing person?"

    Remember when the movie "Steel Magnolias" seemed to mark a possible new career direction for Daryl Hannah as a nonglamorous character actress? And instead... that was about it for her.

    My main association with Jill Scott is her very enjoyable performance in the "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" telemovie and series.

    I rather doubt I'll be watching, though as you say certain cast elements are intriguing.

  2. I remember everything except Darryl Hannah or caring about her one way or the other. I guess for me, "Roxanne" was her attempt to be something better than just the mermaid in "Splash." Yeah, no.

    But I definitely recall seeing "Mystic Pizza" and realizing that somebody thought Annabeth Gish was supposed to be the star, when Julia Roberts was the one who really popped. (Not so much in "Steel Magnolias," because I really do hate the script.)

    And I absolutely remember Alfre Woodard jumping off the screen in "Hill Street Blues" AND that devastating first episode of "LA Law." Oh, and in "The Miss Firecracker Contest," where she was just wonderful. Even "Scrooged." Seriously, she's one of the people I think never puts a foot wrong. Maybe in agreeing to do "Desperate Housewives," but other than that... She's got something I really respond to, that's for sure.

    I haven't seen Jill Scott in anything, but I know the No. 1 Ladies Detective books. She's the one getting good notices early for this Steel Magnolias. But, you know, Truvy is probably the showiest role. It's hard for me to accept that Alfre Woodard and Phylicia Rashad are old enough for Ouiser and Clairee. It seemed like Shirley MacLaine and Olympia Dukakis were oldsters by the time they played them, but Alfre and Phylicia, not so much.