The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood: Movie & DVD Review (2002)

9/06/2007 Posted by Admin

A tribal scream for drama queens everywhere

(Originally published 2002)

Callie Khouri’s "The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" is a tribal scream for drama queens everywhere.

It’s everything it sets out to be and more--so much more--a film about a group of hard-drinking, hard-living, oxygen-tank-sucking, cigarette-smoking, sexagenarian Southern belles who define codependency, live their lives with a passion for meddling in the lives of others, yet who are somehow lovable in spite of being borderline certifiable.

The film, which Khouri, who wrote "Thelma & Louise," and Mark Andrus adapted from Rebecca Wells’ novel, is a chick-flick extraordinaire, a movie whose only oversight seems to be that estrogen wasn’t listed among the film’s producers.

The film stars Sandra Bullock as Sidda Lee Walker, a young New York playwright on the verge of realizing her first Broadway hit when she upsets the balance of her universe by stupidly dissing her mother in an interview for Time magazine.

Sidda’s mother, Vivi (Ellen Burstyn), you see, isn’t just any mother. She’s Hollywood’s idea of a Southern mother, which means that her backbone and temperament are more the stuff of steel than magnolia. No, Vivi doesn’t have snakes writhing in her carefully coifed hair, but she does have a split tongue and a mean mouth, which frequently gets her into trouble and eventually causes a major rift between she and Sidda as the movie opens.

Calling for an intervention, Vivi’s blood sisters, Caro (Maggie Smith), Teensy (Fionnula Flanagan) and Necie (Shirley Knight)--all bound to Vivi by a childhood oath--literally drug Sidda and steal her away to the swamps of Louisiana, where they ply her with booze, fill her in on why her mother is such a controlling witch--and why Vivi is nevertheless deserving of Sidda’s love.

In a series of flashbacks, the film unfolds, dipping into the past to explain the present. As the young Vivi, a vivacious woman whose dreams of becoming famous never come to fruition and whose one true love died in the war, Ashley Judd shows a good deal of poise and restraint until a certain plot element asks her to do neither. What happens to Vivi won’t be revealed here, but it asks Judd to dig deep and act beyond the ease of her pretty smile. The results are just plain humiliating.

Still, as a whole, the movie is good, often winning and funny. With James Garner as Vivi’s long-suffering husband and Angus MacFadyen as Sidda’s long-suffering boyfriend, "The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" sustains its hysterical mood and turns it into a badge of honor, which, as these things go, isn’t just the point--but the exclamation point in its characters’ lives.

Grade: B+

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