Steel Magnolias is a 1989 American comedy-drama film directed by Herbert Ross that stars Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis, Dolly Parton, Daryl Hannah and Julia Roberts. The film is about the bond among a group of women from a parish in the Natchitoches, Louisiana, area. The movie is based on a 1987 play Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling, which in turn dealt with the playwright's experience with the death of his sister. The title suggests the main female characters can be as delicate as magnolias, but are as tough as steel. The magnolia specifically references a magnolia tree they are arguing about at the beginning.
On a spring day in the Chinquapin Parish, a fictional suburb of Natchitoches, Louisiana, a young woman is seen walking down a residential street. She goes into a home-based beauty salon owned by Truvy Jones (Dolly Parton). A recent beauty school graduate, Annelle Dupuy Desoto (Daryl Hannah) has come to answer Truvy's request to the college for a new employee. Annelle is hired immediately because this happens to be the wedding day of the daughter of Truvy's good friend, M'Lynn Eatenton's (Sally Field). The bride-to-be is Shelby Eatenton Latcherie (Julia Roberts), a diabetic facing a marriage that may not result in children due to her illness, and M'Lynn is her worried, over-protective, but loving mother. As Shelby's nuptials draw near and the salon fills with gossiping women, Annelle meets not only M'Lynn and Shelby but also the other "magnolias" who patronize Truvy's salon. They include Ouiser Boudreaux (Shirley MacLaine), a grouchy, two-time widow, who always looks on the negative side of life, and Clairee Belcher (Olympia Dukakis), a cheerful widow, who enjoys taking cracks at Ouiser whenever possible. During an argument with her mother over whether or not she should bear a child, Shelby has a diabetic attack (her blood sugars drop into a state of hypoglycemia). M'Lynn is shown calmly and patiently giving Shelby orange juice and talking her into relaxation, helping to bring her blood sugars back up to a safe range. M'Lynn and husband Drum (Tom Skeritt) throw a wedding reception for Shelby and groom Jackson (Dylan McDermott). The months pass. At Christmas time, Shelby announces to everyone that she is pregnant. She is thrilled but M'Lynn is worried that Shelby's body can't handle the stress. Time skips about a year and a half and picks up with everyone celebrating the first birthday of Shelby's son, Jackson Jr. A shadow soon appears as Shelby discovers that her kidneys are beginning to fail as a result of her pregnancy. M'Lynn offers to donate a kidney to her daughter. The transplant at first seems to be a success, but Shelby collapses into a coma on Halloween and is discovered when Jackson arrives home to find their son crying hysterically. Shelby is taken to the hospital and M'Lynn rushes to her side. The doctors inform the family that Shelby will likely remain comatose indefinitely and Jackson makes the heart-breaking decision to have her taken off life-support. M'Lynn holds Shelby's hand as her daughter passes away. She leaves the funeral arrangements to Drum and Jackson while she rushes off to be with Jack Jr. At the funeral, M'Lynn is beside herself in grief. After the other mourners leave, she breaks down in hysterics in front of Clairee, Truvy, Annelle and Ouiser, claiming she wants to hit something. Clairee then pulls Ousier forward and goes on a humorous tirade, urging M'Lynn to take her frustration and grief out on her. M'Lynn is speechless at first, but as Clairee continues on, she begins to laugh, and soon the others do as well, with the exception of an incensed Ouiser, who stalks off in rage. Later on at the wake, Clairee apologizes to Ouiser and they reconcile. Meanwhile, M'Lynn, who is feeling better, begins to accept her daughter's death and focuses her energy on helping Jackson to raise his son (her grandson). A pregnant Annelle asks M'Lynn if she could name her own baby after Shelby. On Easter morning, Annelle goes into labor during an Easter egg hunt. She is rushed to the hospital and another life begins.