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Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002) – Movie Review

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood movie poster

Written by: Mark Andrus & Callie Khouri, based on the novels by Rebecca Wells
Directed by: Callie Khouri
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Ellen Burstyn, Maggie Smith, Shirley Knight, Fionnula Flanagan

My Advice: Wait for cable.

Sidda (Bullock) finally seems to have it made–she’s a successful playwright (successful enough to be written up in Time anyway) and is almost pretty much engaged to the handsome Connor (Angus MacFadyen) who seems to be a perfect match for her. However–in that aforementioned Time write-up, Sidda says some things about her family history that her mother, Vivi (Burstyn) takes offense to. Serious offense, in fact. A petty war of wills takes place between mother and daughter, and it’s up to Vivi’s lifelong friends, the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (Smith, Knight and Flanagan), to try and bridge the ever-widening gulf between Vivi and Sidda before it screws up their lives even worse than it has already.

[ad#longpost]I don’t really see what the big deal is, to be truthful. And before you assume, I honestly don’t think it’s due to the fact I have a penis. The flick is brilliantly cast, although much of the time the actors bring little to the roles. Bullock manages to inject the right amount of hereditary anger and exasperation, yes, but Burstyn is a much better actress than her part calls for. Ashley Judd as well goes from Southern belle to loonbag, but the two are so tightly intertwined, it’s easy to imagine a lot of different actresses in the role. MacFadyen as well does the best he can with what he’s been given, but it’s the handsome supporting guy role–again, nothing unique.

The parts that are unique, though, are performed amazingly well. James Garner, always a favorite, is the portrait of patient and quiet suffering. The standouts, though, are the three supportings Ya-Yas. There’s no end to my personal amusement when I consider that two of the Louisiana grand dames are really British and Irish. There’s something profoundly arcane about watching Dame Maggie Smith evoking a Southern accent and, as an audience member, saying, “Okay, sure.” The scenes between these three cantankerous booze-swilling women and Bullock are truly the best ones in the film. Not to say there aren’t funny moments sprinkled throughout–there are, a relatively healthy dosage. So what just keeps this film from being spectacular?

Well, primarily it thinks it’s more important than it is. It tries to be some bastard child of Prince of Tides and Fried Green Tomatoes and fails miserably. This is mostly due to the fact that the revelation that drives the entire story–the one that we are prodded about unmercifully by the screenwriter talking through the mouths of the characters–is amazingly small. One is left scratching one’s head and thinking, “That caused all of this?” Also, there are moments in the story of outright child abuse, which are never satisfactorily dealt with. The payoff that was supposed to be big simply wasn’t, and the really big issue left on the table never gets its due. Is this a setup for a sequel? Hell if I know.

If you’re already a member of the Ya-Ya cult, then you’ll probably get off on the film. The screening I attended, filled 96% with women, all left with chants of “Ya Ya!” filling the air. But for anyone who’s not been indoctrinated, who would like to go see a good movie, I advise you skip this.

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