Ya-Ya. Yuk-Yuk. Although the legion of female fans of Rebecca Wells's novels
will probably adore the movie, this male member of the audience for DIVINE
SECRETS OF THE YA-YA SISTERHOOD found little to keep his attention. It was like
being stuck at a tea party with a bunch of women in which all of the
conversations were about floral decorations.
Telling a story that spans multiple generations and decades, writer and director
Callie Khouri creates a confusing blur. Most of the numerous characters are
played by different actors at different ages. Don't forget to buy a program at
the concession stand so that you can keep them straight.
The foundation for the plot is an event in the forest in which four girls sneak
off to form a little club. Wearing silly hats, they declare themselves royalty
in the Ya-Ya tribe. We then cut, "many, many, many moons later," to the present
time in which successful playwright Siddalee Walker (Sandra Bullock) has issues
with her mother, Vivi Abbott Walker (Ellen Burstyn). Vivi, you see, was the
original high priestess of the Ya-Yas.
The Abbotts are a canonically dysfunctional Southern family who has more money
than it knows what to do with. Vivi's mother is emotionally unstable, something
that runs in the family. Supposedly alcoholism does too, but the depiction in
the movie isn't the least bit convincing. Ashley Judd, in one of her weakest
performances, plays Vivi as a young mother.
James Garner is on board in a throwaway part as Vivi's husband. Other than
getting to deliver his one decent line ("When I said 'For better or for worse,'
I knew it was a coin toss."), he has little to do.
The movie is rife with tonal problems. It's frequently unclear what reaction
the director is looking for. Are we supposed to laugh at Vivi's quirks and
violent tendencies or feel sorry for her and her kids?
Although the story keeps flashing forwards and backwards, the main thread
happens in the present and concerns a "Ya-Ya mission of mercy" in which the
other three members of the Ya-Yas, played by Fionnula Flanagan, Shirley Knight
and Maggie Smith, try to get Vivi to reconcile with Siddalee. Along the way, a
deep, dark secret is revealed, but don't be surprised if you find it kind of a
narrative let-down, as it turns out to be not all that startling.
The books' fans can have this movie. If you're not one, I'd recommend you try
DIVINE SECRETS OF THE YA-YA SISTERHOOD runs 1:56. It is rated PG-13 for "mature
thematic elements, language, and brief sensuality" and would be acceptable for
kids around 12 and up.
Copyright © 2002 Steve Rhodes