I have said before that remakes are not a bad thing. This is especially true for the 2012 adaptation of Steel Magnolias. This film updates the setting to the present day, and the main cast are all portrayed by African-American actors. Otherwise, much of the film is identical to the 1989 classic version. The scenes are in slightly different orders, some are added and some are removed, and the dialogue is altered a little, but it is a faithful adaptation of the Robert Harling play Steel Magnolias.
Unfortunately, this remake did not get well-received by many viewers, despite being championed by the above playwright himself (who based his story on his own family).
One of the chief complaints was that the original film did not need a remake and that the new actors could not do the roles justice like those in the 1989 film. Fortunately, Steel Magnolias is a play, first and foremost. Hundreds of actresses have played the roles on stage, from professionals to community theatre to high schoolers. The films are no different. Queen Latifah is no Sally Field, but she isn’t playing Sally Field, she is playing M’lynn Eatonton, and she does that brilliantly. The others follow suit. Alfre Woodard portrays a much more believable and sympathetic Ouiser Boudreau than Shirley Maclaine was.
As for whether or not a remake was needed, I just have to add that as a fan of the original film, I am nonetheless caught up on the fact that the original film takes place in 1989. It is supposed to be a timeless tale of family, but ends up coming across as a period piece. As someone who only remembers the 1980s as a young child (and young people today remember less if at all), I am distracted by the hairstyles, clothes, technology, and pop culture references. The new version updates all of those things, but the timelessness of the story itself and the characters remain. It is testament to its timelessness that all the writers needed to do was update some of the dialogue and have someone use a cell phone once in awhile!
The dialogue did have some trouble, however. According to some viewers, African-Americans from Louisiana and non-African-Americans from Louisiana talk differently. I did think there was something off about the dialogue, even though I couldn’t put my finger on it when I watched. Still, that didn’t detract from my appreciation of it – perhaps due to geographic displacement on my part. Either that, or these were African-Americans playing white characters, just like if they were performing the play.
Overall, the plot was streamlined and the main themes of the story were made more apparent than in the 1989 version. There are no distractions with holidays (every scene having to take place around a major holiday in the 1989 film), jumping timelines (how long was Annelle pregnant, anyway?), or extra scenes that did not serve to advance the plot, other than what was present in Harling’s play. All of the scenes centre around the main themes.
Fundamentally, this is a story about family, triumph over adversity, and love. It is about enjoying life to the fullest and not merely playing it safe to exist day by day. It is about motherhood and sacrifice. It is about accepting change.
Change indeed, but a new movie with a new cast is still wonderful.