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Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Ashley Judd
Director: Callie Khouri
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 116 Minutes
Release Date: June 2002
Genres: Comedy, Drama

*Also starring: Caitlin Wachs, Cherry Jones, David Rasche, Angus MacFadyen, Ellen Burstyn, Fionnula Flanagan, Maggie Smith

Review by Steve Rhodes
1½ stars out of 4

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 anything else.

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

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