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30 YEARS SINCE 'STEEL MAGNOLIAS'

THE FEMALE-LED FILMS THAT MADE ME

RETROSPECTIVE REVIEW
LATEST REVIEWS
By Jess Fenton
15th November 2019

I know what you’re going to say - "Jess, it was 30 years ago." "Jess, you need to move on." "Jess, nothing became of these women and you should let it go." I know, I know... but ‘Steel Magnolias’ is one of the greatest movies of all time! And yes, I realise that in the intervening years, no one has heard of Dolly Parton, Sally Field or Shirley MacLaine; I can hear you thinking, “Who the hell is Julia Roberts?” But I love them all and I have loved, laughed and cried along with them for the past three decades.

Now, confession time, I tend to do this a lot in these articles - I am a feminist, but I’m also in my mid 30s, and over the years I have listened to countless female Hollywood idols get up on stage to receive awards and accolades and talk about the lack of “great female roles” or “roles for women over 40” or the struggle to get female-led films made and or marketed - and I have to be honest, I have no freakin’ idea what they’ve been talking about. While I never doubted that their plight was real, I just simply couldn't comprehend it. So many of the films that I’ve loved, worshipped and quote ad nauseam to this day are so deliciously women-centric that I feel I couldn’t possibly have been living in the same world as these actors. I must have just naturally gravitated towards them, or I have exceptional taste in movies. Ah, who am I kidding, it’s both!

So for anyone out there raising a future woman in whatever shape or form who finds themselves wondering what to show them after you’ve ticked off childhood the standards ('Grease', 'The Sound of Music', 'Mary Poppins', ‘Dirty Dancing’ and 'Home Alone'), here’s a little list of films (made before 2002 when I turned 18) and the glorious women who taught me how to be me.

STEEL MAGNOLIAS (1989)
They don’t make 'em like this anymore. Six southern gals of different generations guide us through the years and give us a peek into their lives, loves and inner-female dynamics. Sporting names like Shelby, Ouiser, M’Lynn and Clairee, ‘Steel Magnolias’ will have you howling with laughter and screaming for a second box of tissues thanks to one perfect, stunning film with a cast to die for.

TROOP BEVERLY HILLS (1989)
Okay, I need a minute - I start hyperventilating with excitement just thinking about this movie. So, Shelley Long plays a fabulous fashionista Beverly Hills mum in the midst of a divorce from Craig T. Nelson who decides to become her daughter’s Girl Scout troop leader. The troop is filled with the who’s who of daughters, who also happen to be just as less-than-nature inclined as you'd think. When a fellow Den Mother doesn’t take too kindly to Shelley’s unorthodox methods, she makes it her mission to take her down one box of cookies at a time. But you should never underestimate the bitches from Beverly Hills. And if it helps, Nicole Richie is equally obsessed with this movie as I am... I said if it helps!

NOW AND THEN (1995)
Warning: your children will try to perform a seance after watching this movie. They’ll also try endlessly to pause the film on Devon Sawa’s penis. I mean, I never did it, but friends of mine did.

A tale of female friendship in adolescence, how it and their shared experiences shaped them as people, and then how those friendships grow and change once you reach adulthood, all defined by a single summer in the 60s when shorts were short, boots were tall (and made for walking) and our four best gal friends were starting to become women. Boys, divorce, bra stuffing, the birds and the bees and one mysterious dead little boy all play their parts as Roberta, Teeny, Samantha and Chrissy embark on a summer they'll never forget. There’s also a treehouse. Just sayin'.

SPICE WORLD (1997)
Whoever said the perfect movie doesn’t exist has clearly never seen ‘Spice World’. Just sit back and enjoy the ride in the most hilarious and irreverent way as the Spice Girls spice up your life in preparation for their first major concert event at the Royal Albert Hall while fighting off the haters and an Australian newspaper mogul intent on bringing them down. Just remember, these five girls hold records The Beatles never even came close to. Think about that while you roll your eyes at the mere thought of watching a Spice Girls movie and wondering why you should spend your precious time watching this “tripe”. Their impact on this world is unparalleled. Girl Power!

CLUELESS (1995)
Before there was ‘Mean Girls’, there was ‘Clueless’ - when personal use mobile phones were just starting to take off and teens everywhere were introduced to Cher, her posse and her amazing wardrobe. ‘Clueless’ is a Gen Y-defining film. This modern-day ‘Emma’ taught us that change is good, but so is embracing who you truly are. We learned that there is someone for everyone if you're open to it, and that even if you have popularity and money you can still be a douche, *cough* Elton *cough*.

BRING IT ON (2000)
Show me a person over the age 30 who can’t quote this film word for word, and I’ll show you a damn liar. Cheerleading - no longer the hobby of the “pretty” and “popular” girls, ‘Bring It On’ helped redefine cheerleading in the minds of the ignorant to what it truly is - a sport, a hard-arse sport not for the faint-hearted. It also taught us spirit fingers. It’s possible the latter was more enduring. Up until ‘Bring It On’, sports films were about the underdogs, but this film taught us the perils of cheating and that honest hard work and effort is an achievement unto itself. Spoiler alert: they come second at the National Championships, and they couldn’t be happier about it; why? Because they brought it. Almost 20 years later, I’m still not positive what that means, but I do know that first impressions are not always correct, that’s it’s not a democracy it’s a cheer-ocracy, and that Missy is “bank”. Again, don’t know what that means either. I’m just gonna assume it’s a good thing.

The year 2000 was an absolute killer for girl power. Three films from that year appear on this list. I was 15 at the time, and my head was exploding with female empowerment.

9 TO 5 (1980)
Not the only trio of dynamite gals to appear on this list, but certainly among the most iconic. More than just a Dolly Parton banger, ‘9 to 5’ showed the world what happens when you underestimate the power and value of women in the workplace. Who run the world!?

CHARLIE'S ANGELS (2000)
Just one of a hundred TV-to-big screen adaptations we’ve had over the years, this film did what most couldn’t - be good, be successful, be iconic - so much so that this reboot has just had its own reboot. I’m calling it Reboot-ception. Yes, that’s a terrible name, and I don’t anticipate it catching on. ‘Charlie’s Angels’ was special for not only showcasing kick-arse women, but they did it without guns - a conscious and highly praised and successful move thanks to executive producer and star Drew Barrymore. Brains, beauty and bravery come together in one complete package here with some badassdom to spare.

LITTLE WOMEN (1994)
Before we were old enough to read it, we watched it... and wondered why they said “Marm” instead of Mum. It really, really, really bugged me. Old-timey people were weird. But this was the first time that a lot of girls realised that not only was there a time when women weren’t allowed to be anything more than a wife, teacher or nanny, but that a woman fighting to be more was compelling, inspiring and considered literary genius. Today, women are getting married later and dispensing with the idea of having children altogether, but Winona Ryder and Louisa May Alcott showed us that this is anything but a new or radical idea. ‘Little Women’ on-screen just helped usher it into the 21st century.

COYOTE UGLY (2000)
They danced on a bar top, wore leather pants and bras, doused themselves is ice-cold water and served beer with attitude all for the titillation of men. And they did all that while secretly maintaining all the power. God it was good. A small-town girl wanders into the big city with dreams of becoming a famous songwriter, but instead lands herself a job at the coolest bar in town, staffed entirely by women and having one hell of a good time too - all to the soundtrack of LeAnn Rimes. The year 2000 was an absolute killer for girl power. Three films from that year appear on this list. I was 15 at the time, and my head was exploding with female empowerment. Yes, all of these films had to sell sex, but that’s just the spoonful of sugar - and why can’t women be sexy and powerful at the same time!? You can’t fight the moonlight! (I have no idea what that means either!)

THE FIRST WIVES CLUB (1996)
Diane, Goldie and Bette - what I wouldn’t give to be BFFs with these women! ‘The First Wives Club’ was hilarious, chic, starred women over the age of 40, dealt with the older man/younger woman side of life - and absolutely nailed it. These three women are dynamos on their own, but together - both on-screen and fictitiously - they were a force to be reckoned with. For women to be funny was seen as poppycock, but for women over 40 to be hilarious was viewed as impossible - that is, until ‘First Wives Club’ came along.

A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (1992)
In just this past week it was announced that the Australian female soccer team was going to earn the same as their male counterparts. This announcement is huge, and all other female sporting codes are probably crapping their pants at the moment. In 2019, female athletes are still seen as less than, so imagine being one 60 years ago. Not all wartime ladies worked the factories back then. The world had to go on, so filling the void our men left behind was not purely of the manual labour variety, and the masses still needed to be entertained. ‘A League of their Own’ took Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, Geena Davis, Lori Petty and Tom Hanks and showed the world what it was like to be a woman in the “man’s world” of professional baseball. And it was a hoot. Batter up!
FAST FACTS
STEEL MAGNOLIAS
RELEASE DATE: 22/11/1989
RUN TIME: 1h 57m
CAST: Sally Field
Dolly Parton
Shirley Maclaine
Julia Roberts
Daryl Hannah
Olympia Dukakis
Tom Skerritt
Sam Shepard
Dylan McDermott
Kevin J. O'Connor
DIRECTOR: Herbert Ross
PRODUCER: Ray Stark
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