TV Review - Steel Magnolias (2012)

A character in this movie says that she would rather have thirty minutes of something wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special. In retrospect, this line has to be one of the most selfish lines I've ever heard. The character in question is a nurse named Shelby who is a diabetic. Shelby's doctors have told her that she shouldn't have children due to numerous health-risks. She doesn't care. She goes ahead and has a baby anyway, a son, which results in health problems that become life-threatening. Her mom, Melin, played by Oscar-nominee Queen Latifah, warns Shelby before she had the baby not to do it, but Shelby disregards, claiming again she'd rather have "thirty minutes of something wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special."

Shelby's health problems could result in her death, so what she means is that she would prefer to be dead, having given birth to a baby rather than doing a surrogacy or an adoption, which meant she could live a full life. This is inherently selfish. Did she not think about the repercussions? Her son might have to grow up never knowing his mother. Her husband and family are going to have to live with her death and carry that around for the rest of their lives. All for what? So she could have thirty minutes of something wonderful? Why doesn't she think surrogacy and adoption are something wonderful?

Based on the stage play by Robert Harling, Sally Robinson wrote this teleplay to be a series of conversations between a group of African-American women of various ages at a small, boutique-like beauty salon in Georgia, probably not that far from Atlanta. These conversations are over the course of a year or two or three. They're loosely tied together with scenes depicting the brief and supposedly wondrous marriage of Shelby and Jackson. Harling's writing and Robinson's craftsmanship are enough to be an emotional knock-out.

Queen Latifah is provided a perfect platform to deliver that emotional knock-out. Other characters are given material with which to deliver as best they can, and they do, but it's all peripheral. In terms of creating a memorable character, Alfre Woodard shines brighter than the rest. She steals the scene every time she walks into it and speaks.

Phylicia Rashad, Jill Scott and Adepero Oduye round out the cast, but whatever things their characters have to handle, the Shelby stuff eclipses it. I don't blame the actors. The stage play or even the 1989 feature film had more time to breath. This TV movie had to fit in a two-hour time block that included a half-hour for commercials. If the makers were given more time, the other characters could have been developed more.

The movie hopscotches through its plot points. The actresses are enjoyable. They're beautiful. They're funny. They have great chemistry together. There are plenty of tear-jerking moments, but my favorite is a scene between Latifah and Tory Kittles who plays her son-in-law Jackson over his guilt or complicity in Shelby's pregnancy and subsequent health problems. Without histrionics, it gets at the core issues. It doesn't address the inherent selfishness, but under Kenny Leon's direction every gets canonized.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-PG.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 28 mins.


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