[Moving picture of popcorn]

Laramie Movie Scope:
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

Estrogen overload

[Strip of film rule]
by Robert Roten, Film Critic
[Strip of film rule]

June 8, 2002 -- The latest southern fried chick flick to hit the screens is "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood." The film exudes so much estrogen I thought my beard was going to fall out. The film has its moments, but it suffers from a caricature-driven plot. At least it avoids the pitfall of misandry that haunted another big Dixie potboiler, "Steel Magnolias." First-time director Callie Khouri, who wrote "Thelma and Louise" also wrote the "Ya-Ya" screenplay with Mark Andrus ("Life as a House"). It is based on the novels "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" and "Little Altars Everywhere," by Rebecca Wells.

A variety of women and girls star as a tight-knit sisterhood from Louisiana who age some 67 years during the course of the film. Three sets of actresses portray the friends as girls in the 1930s, then as 20-something women in the 1940s and 50s, and finally as current day seniors. The leader of the bunch is Vivi (played by Ellen Burstyn of "Requiem for a Dream"), played as a younger woman by Ashley Judd of "High Crimes." She is the leader and apparent founder of the Ya-Ya sisterhood, a society dedicated to truth, justice and the Southern Belle way. Other members of the sisterhood include Teensy (Fionnula Flanagan of "The Others"), Necie (Shirley Knight of "Angel Eyes") and Caro (Maggie Smith of "Gosford Park").

The main story is about the problems that plague Vivi and her daughter, Sidda (Sandra Bullock of "Murder by Numbers"). Sidda has not gotten along well with her mother for years. An ill-timed magazine article in which Sidda, during an interview, reveals, among other embarrassing things, that her mother beat her, infuriates Vivi. Despite the fact that Vivi did beat Sidda, and severely too, Vivi will not stand for her daughter to make her look like a bad mother. She has a hissy fit, while Sidda stubbornly refuses to apologize. The tempest in a teapot soon expands to the point where it begins to threaten Sidda's impending marriage to the charming Connor (Angus MacFadyen of "Cradle Will Rock"). The Ya-Ya sisterhood enters the fray and tries to reconcile Sidda and Vivi.

The sisterhood forces Sidda to read the scrapbook of Ya-Ya Sisterhood secrets so she can better understand Vivi. Their goal is to somehow convince Sidda that her mother is not such a bad person after all and there are good reasons she acted the way she did when she was younger. Connor also gets involved in the dispute, especially after he learns that Sidda may call off the wedding. Connor utters what is probably the truest line of the movie when he tells Sidda she is more sane than she has any right to be. Eventually, even the mild-mannered Shep Walker (James Garner of "Space Cowboys"), Vivi's husband, gets involved. Shep has made a shallow life out of keeping a low profile in the volcanic shadow of Vivi. Although the men of the movie are marginalized, they do show considerable intelligence, wit, grace and sensitivity. Normally in these kinds of films, men are portrayed as beings low on the evolutionary scale, something like crustaceans, only meaner and less intelligent.

While the screenplay is thin, uncompelling and often unbelievable, the acting is quite good. As you would expect in an overblown character study like this, the veteran actresses take advantage of these rare meaty roles and bring these rich, vibrant characters to life. Bullock, Burstyn, Judd and Flanagan all give excellent performances. The supporting performances by Maggie Smith, Knight, Garner and MacFadyen are very strong. The story includes its share of outrageous elements, including use of a "date rape drug," a kidnapping and a strange breach of airline security (the screenplay was probably written prior to 9-ll) as its more hard-to-swallow, illegal and unnecessary, elements. This kind of plot would not work if any of the major characters had a shred of common sense. It is one thing to make southern women eccentric. It is another to turn them into caricatures.

The "big secret" revealed in the film is rather anticlimactic. Despite the lack of subtlety in the story, and despite the fact that Vivi's character is almost buffoonish, there is something in the plot many people can relate to. The basic story about the difficulties of this mother and daughter relating to each other is a common one. I think many mothers and daughters can relate to it on some level, despite the excesses of the screenplay. There is a basic spine of humanity in the film which survives the more outrageous plot elements, but only just barely. The main strength of this movie lies in its character development and strong performances. This film rates a C.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

[Strip of film rule]
Copyright © 2002 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
[Strip of film rule]
Back to the Laramie Movie Scope index.
[Rule made of Seventh Seal sillouettes]

Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)