Robert Harling’s play was set solely in the beauty parlor where his heroines – a group of the liveliest, warmest Southern women imaginable – gather to dish dirt, crack jokes, do hair and give one another some solid, post-feminist emotional support. In opening up his own play for the screen, Harling has made actual characters of the menfolk only talked about in the play.
As Sally Field’s troubled yet ever-hopeful seriously diabetic daughter, Julia Roberts has real freshness and charm of the sort that can’t be faked.
As the beauty shop owner around whom all the action swirls, Dolly Parton is thoroughly in her element. Wisely she remains in character as a particular good ole gal – with the Dolly her fans love peeking out from underneath.
Shirley MacLaine is a nicely bridled caricature as the town curmudgeon. She looks a wreck, talks trash and obviously loves every minute of it.
As her partner in hamming-as-an-art-form, Olympia Dukakis just about walks away with the picture, even though she’s never the center of attention in any of the film’s scenes.
Daryl Hannah, not unexpectedly, has her hands full keeping up with this company as a gawky, nerdish beautician’s assistant.
Field does some spectacular underplaying through the bulk of the action, revealing layer after layer of the feelings of this kindly tempered, deeply worried mother.
1989: Nomination: Best Supp. Actress (Julia Roberts)