A rose is a rose is a rose. And so is a magnolia... even the Steel Magnolias.
The 2012 remake of the movie Steel Magnolias that hit the silver screen 23 years ago aired worldwide on Sunday evening on Lifetime TV.
Like before, the film tells the story of a young woman from the South, Shelby, who is living with type 1 diabetes and dealing with the joys and stresses of being a newlywed. It's basically a film about female friendships, and the emotional crux here is the fact that Shelby is struggling with chronic kidney illness caused by her diabetes, which complicates family planning.
The new twist in this remake, as we wrote about back in August, is that it features an all-black cast. Of course, our Diabetes Community has been on the edge of its seat waiting to see how the producers would handle the topic of diabetes in this modern re-adaption.
Overall, Amy and I thought the diabetes was handled factually and with respect — if glossed over a bit — but the film itself falls flat of the tear-jerker it hoped to be. Still, it was a hit in the ratings, according to Hollywood news sites: the reboot averaged 6.5 million viewers, making it the cable network's third most-watched original airing ever.
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Spoiler alert: the rest of this post gives away a lot of details, including, but not limited to, how diabetes is portrayed in the movie.
The story is sad. There's no way around that. Shelby's kidney illness takes her life.
My wife and I watched the movie while visiting my parents, and so my mom (a type 1 herself for more than a half-century since age 5) also tuned in with us to watch.
Sure, the six actresses (and a few male actors) did fine and carried their lines and parts well enough. But it just seemed to me more shallow and hollow a movie than what I remember of the original. A lot of it just sounded like light banter (just "reading the lines"), with just a few exceptions scattered throughout.
The lines were 99% spot-on with the original 1989 script, upgraded just with a little more slang and some tweaks based on the cast changes and modern world, i.e. text messages, iPhones and iPod, plus a little more culturally-charged wedding reception dance music than in the original flim.
Diabetes isn't the focus of the movie, but it is a major plot point that ties everything together and makes the story what it is. As far as the D-aspect, I actually prefer this modern remake. Why? Because it addressed the shortcomings of the original, spelling out that the problem isn't that "diabetics can't have healthy babies" but rather that Shelby's chronic kidney disease — presumably the diabetes complication nephropathy, although I don't think it was specifically explained as a complication — was causing the pregnancy concern.
We got one glimpse of Shelby checking her blood sugar while sitting in the bathroom, and one of the mother-daughter conversations about pregnancy clued us in that Shelby was in "tight" control checking 10 times a day. Shelby also mentions consulting with a dietician and eye doc for her "high-risk" pregnancy.
The famous "juice scene" in the beauty parlor was similar to the original, though personally I think Julia Roberts acted out the hypo reaction better than Condola Rashad in this remake. That was a bit of a problem overall, with Rashad bouncing around the movie looking ueber-healthy and energetic at all times, while everyone is so very concerned about her chronic condition. We thought there should have been moments where she at least looked a little less than perfect.
One tidbit that wasn't in the original that hit home with me was the "Oh, crap!" moment after Shelby's blood sugar starts rising and she sees the orange juice and crowd of ladies crouching over her. Instinctively, she apologies and that sense of guilt that I always feel post-low came rushing at me. Well done on that script addition.
There was also an interesting part where Shelby talks to her mom, M'Lynn (a very matriarchal Queen Latifah) about trying to adopt a child, and how it'd be nearly impossible to do so once she had to list type 1 diabetes on her medical forms - an issue that is indeed a concern to real-life PWDs hoping to adopt.
But really, aside from that, we didn't get a look at what it's like to live with diabetes. That's something I think many in the diabetes community were hoping for. Shelby's mom knits her eyebrows a lot in concern, but there's never any mention of how tough it was for her to constantly monitor a type 1 child for all those years. And again, Rashad as Shelby prances through the movie looking fantastic, and aside from that cameo of testing in the bathroom, there's not a single nod to an insulin pump, syringe, or any of the stuff of daily D-life.
A couple scenes seem to contradict each other in, in fact. There's mention of Mama M'Lynn being so worried about her daughter's diabetes that she hesitated in allowing Shelby to get a driver's license or go to camp. But later in the movie, Shelby reminds her mom that she always told her she could do anything she dreamed of ...
The two just don't seem to jibe.
Overall, the movie was no Terms of Endearment. But at least its treatment of diabetes was accurate and didn't cast a negative "you can't do this" light on this illness like the original 1989 movie did. And personally, I thought it was important to show that D-complications like dialysis-requiring nephropathy can occur. Not everything is rosy.
To provide some additional insight into diabetes, Lifetime TV has added a list of a few online resources on its main page for the movie.
But only three D-sites are called out: the American Diabetes Association, Diabetes Hands Foundation, and us here at DiabetesMine!! (we're not sure how that came about). But noticeably and curiously absent are key organizations like JDRF and CWD.
Also, we were disappointed to note that tweets generated by the network surrounding the movie so far appear to be basically "robo-tweets" that simply reference the webpage rather than providing real answers to the questions being posed. Bummer. This seemed like a real opportunity to offer more engagement and information about diabetes to America at large — but if folks watched and enjoyed the new Steel Magnolias, maybe they at least picked up a tidbit of D-reality.