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Steel Magnolias is a heartfelt look at six female friends

STEEL MAGNOLIAS

Directed by Herbert Ross.

Written by Robert Harling.

Starring Julia Roberts, Sally Field,

Dolly Parton, and Shirley MacLaine.

Now playing at the Cheri and

Harvard Square cinemas.

By FRANK GILLETT

STEEL MAGNOLIAS HAS A LARGE, diverse cast of women who have developed a special, lasting closeness that allows them to share life's pains and pleasures. The best way to characterize the movie is to describe its setting of a small Southern town.

The movie opens on the broad, tree-shaded lanes of a Louisiana town. Playwright and screenwriter Robert Harling based the town and the story on his experiences growing up in Natchitoches, LA. It's one of those small, pleasant Southern towns where everyone knows everything about everyone else. Annelle Dupuy (Daryl Hannah) introduces both town and movie by wandering into the local beauty parlor looking for work. She meets several members of her close-knit group of friends and is soon drawn in.

Dolly Parton's character, Truvy Jones, runs the local hair salon. She supplements her warm, big-hearted personality with quotes like "There's no such thang as natural beauty. It takes some effort to look lahk this." Olympia Dukakis, as Clairee Belcher, soon strolls in as the wealthy grand dame who's still got some spunk in her. Her opening quote about the town's gossipy nature: "If you can achieve puberty, you can achieve a past." The other three principal players are introduced at the home of M'Lynn Eatenton (Sally Field), who is frantically preparing for her daughter's wedding. The bride, Shelby (Julia Roberts), is nervous. Along with her mischievous younger brothers, she adds to the chaos by chasing birds. We meet Shirley MacLaine's Ouiser Boudreaux, a character as unique as her name, when she stomps in to complain about all the ruckus. Compared to all these interesting personalities, the men are in the background. Sam Shepard, as Truvy's husband, is the most notable of the supporting cast.

As the movie gets going, the characters show more of themselves. Nobody seems perfect; gradually the good and bad of everyday life emerges. Once the wedding takes place and the characters are established, the movie begins to move in giant leaps. The transitions are abrupt and required some concentration to follow. Moving over the months and years, the women share joys, sorrows, growth, and support. Religion, marital problems, and a tragedy test the group's strength. Despite the hard times, there are a lot of laughs and many more snappy quotes to relieve the somber parts.

Steel Magnolias has some shortcomings. The jerky scene changes and some stilted, unnatural lines remind you that it was a stage production before it was a movie. The ending is light and easy. The male characters are not well developed. What's missing is a better depiction of the role they play in the women's lives.

The relationships between the women was what stood out about the movie; the give-and-take between them was well depicted. The women's actions showed their independence far better than words could have. This is where the acting, especially that of MacLaine, Dukakis, Field, and Roberts, revealed the subtle strengths and needs of their characters. The cinematography is very good at taking us inside the town and into the gathering places of these close friends, giving a warm, homey feeling. Steel Magnolias is a delightful, emotional movie that shows how people can laugh at themselves and their friends, in good times and in bad, and make each day a little easier.