Okay so I watched the remake of Steel Magnolias… and I had so many thoughts it was impossible for me to social network my way through my opinion of the movie. So I decided to do it here, where I can add appropriate detail without running into a character limit or an otherwise unnecessarily long status update.
Let me start by saying that I have to be the original movie’s biggest fan. I know every word, every scene change, I’ve watched it so many times, I can replay the entire movie in my head without help. So when I heard there was going to be remake, I was only slightly curious- and mostly skeptical. When you remake on a classic, it’s always a sticky business. Sometimes you get it right (think Ocean’s Eleven, and The Karate Kid). And sometimes you are just looking for an excuse to take something perfect and turn into a disaster (think Arthur and Footloose). It’s also just a sad fact of life that when you remake a popular movie within the same generation as the original, you are opening yourself up to comparison, no matter how much you say you’re not competing with the original- it sucks, but it’s true. Add that to the fact that it was being remade with an all-black cast, and it was safe to say that I was skeptical. Aside from the fact that I don’t really know why we needed a remake of one of the greatest chick flicks of all time, an all-black cast gave me a little bit of pause. I don’t have a problem with the idea, per se; I just wondered why it was necessary. But all of that aside, I decided to watch and vowed that I would try and keep an open mind.
Now, I have to say that after watching, I’m at about 50/50 on this remake- meaning that there were just as many things I liked as things I hated about the movie. First, I hated the fact that this remake was a made-for-TV Lifetime movie. The original was a full-length, feature film, released in the theater. If you dared to try and remake this, and for TV no less, the least you could do was spend some more money and buy out the advertising so you could show it on the premiere night with limited or no commercial interruption. That, I believe was their first mistake. But it certainly wasn’t their last.
Casting was both a triumph and a failure, in my opinion. Shelby Eatenton is a central character- one might even argue that she’s the main character. So she should be strong, sassy, completely fearless. Condola Rashad wasn’t any of those things in this movie. She seemed unsure most of the time, hesitant in her role. She’s a young actress and previous to this had only done theater and minor TV roles- so I guess it’s to be expected. But I wanted her to be stronger- I wanted her role to break out more. She seemed so minor to me in this movie- and Shelby’s role was anything but minor. Another casting mistake was Annelle. Annelle Dupuy was played by another young actress, Adepero Oduye. Now, in the original movie Annelle didn’t have as pivotal a role as Shelby, but Annelle had so much personality you remembered her- even during the scenes she wasn’t in. She added her own comedic value to the movie, and you root for her and Sammy. This Annelle was dry and unmemorable. She was uninteresting and she wasn’t funny at all. Now I don’t if it was their intention to revamp Annelle’s character, but something tells me it wasn’t. Either way, she was poorly portrayed as well. Yet another casting mistake was Drum Eatenton. In the remake he was played by Afemo Omilami. Now, it wasn’t that his role wasn’t acted well- as a matter of fact, I think he was just fine on that front. The reason he was a mistake as Drum was because his wife M’Lynn was portrayed by Queen Latifah- and the obvious age difference was a little weird. He wasn’t a bad actor; he was just too old for the wife he was portrayed as having. Not only is Queen Latifah 20 years his junior, but she’s a Cover Girl; her job is to look younger. This brings me to Queen Latifah. I bring her up here because she was so-so in her role, which makes her a nice segue from the roles I hated to the ones I loved. She was… okay, for lack of a better word. I mean, she started off slow- really slow- but she kind of made me a believer at the end. At first, I was worried about her portraying the matriarch of the family; the mother of a bride, and then subsequently a grandmother- but she just eked out the role; she just pulled it off. I ended up liking her- which I wasn’t expecting. Another character that made me smile was Phylicia Rashad. She played Clairee Belcher, the widow of the former mayor. Now, you may feel like Phylicia Rashad didn’t have much of a significant impact on the movie, but in perspective, she is a talented actress who played the role she was given very well- and the original Clairee didn’t have too much impact on the movie either. So she was perfect in her portrayal of Clairee and I was glad they casted her. She had some comedic moments and her delivery was perfect. Jill Scott was also great in this movie. She played Truvy Jones, owner of the beauty shop where the women gathered to share their lives. Jill Scott was very, very good in this role. She was fun, and sweet and lively- everything Dolly Parton was in the original. She also gave the role a little bit more, but I’ll get to that later. By far, the best casting decision was Alfre Woodard as Louisa “Ms. Weezer” Boudreaux. Alfre Woodard was perfect in this role; it’s like it was made for her. She was grumpy, stubborn and totally hilarious. She made the other actresses better in this movie, and she and Phylicia Rashad were perfect best friends; yin and yang.
The plot lines were another triumph and failure. Now, I’ll start this one off positive and talk about the subtle differences I liked. The remake gave a little more focus on Truvy and Spud as a couple; I liked this because it gave us the opportunity to really see how much they struggled as a couple because he was unemployed. The first movie kind of skimmed over that; I’m glad that the remake looked at it more closely. I’m also glad that they showed M’Lynn and Drum as slightly more affectionate; they weren’t in the original movie and I have to say that always bothered me. I loved that the wedding reception scene was an accurate portrayal of a black reception, complete with the Wobble and a Soul Train line. Now, as far as what I didn’t like, there were a few things there as well. I didn’t like that they cut out almost all reference to the small subplot that Annelle and Sammy had; and even the small scenes where Clairee had a bit of her own subplot. I suspect they did this for time (it was a TV movie with commercials, after all)- but the movie is about the lives of all six of these women; there was only scene referencing Annelle and Sammy (the scene where they met) and no scenes exclusively about Clairee at all, or any scenes referencing her relationship with Ms. Weezer, both of which (although they were small scenes) were in the original movie. I didn’t like that they moved the dramatic M’Lynn breakdown scene to Truvy’s beauty shop; it didn’t seem quite as authentic, coming later like that. Shelby’s insulin shock scene was too short and mediocre at best- but I think that had a little to do with the actress and a little to do with the scene itself.
I am positive that there are more things to both hate and love (feel free to comment on your best and worst for the movie). But all in all, like I said, it was a 50/50 for me. I didn’t hate it, but I certainly didn’t love it. Mostly it seems that my first instinct was correct; the remake was a nice idea, but it seemed unnecessary. Oh, well. I have the original on DVD; I’ll just watch it again…