Ever since the trailers began popping up in movie theaters, I have
discovered that there is a world of women--seemingly the entire adult
female population--who have read "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood,"
by Rebecca Wells, and follow it religiously. The general consensus
is that males, on the other hand, will likely avoid this big-screen
adaptation like the plague. Men. Women. It makes no difference. Academy
Award winning screenwriter Callie Khouri (1991's "Thelma & Louise"),
in her directing debut, has crafted a lumbering, cutesy, shallow,
and incomprehensible misfire that neither gender should buy into.
While never having read the book, my only guess is that it has to
be worlds better than its cinematic equivalent because, if not, its
devoted fans have been seriously brainwashed by someone.
Everything in "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" is simply too
colorful--too sarcastic--for its own good. The characters, whom all
have precious movie-style names like Sidda, Vivi, Necie, Teensy, and
Caro, spout off sassy one-liners like they are going out of style,
but their actions are not endearing, and their words strike false
notes around every corner. Director Callie Khouri, who also penned
the awkward, undernourished screenplay, has seemingly misplaced depth
of character with throwaway lines of dialogue.
The film begins in what appears to be the present day, as aging drama
queen Vivi (Ellen Burstyn) comes upon an interview with her playwriter
daughter, Sidda (Sandra Bullock), who basically blames her for an
unhappy childhood. In true Vivi fashion, she is angered, hurt, and
generally overreacts. In an attempt to reconcile mother and daughter,
Vivi's lifelong friends--Teensy (Fionnula Flanagan), Caro (Maggie
Smith), and Necie (Shirley Knight)--drug the Manhattan-based Sidda
into flying down to their hometown in the deep south. With Sidda just
miles away from the unsuspecting Vivi, she is introduced to the scrapbook
entitled, "The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood." According
to Teensy, Caro, and Necie, that book is the key to understanding
the joys, compassion, sorrows, and flaws of Sidda's mother.
The narrative weaving of past and present is just one stylistic atrocity
in a film overflowing with glaring missteps. As the younger, conflicted
Vivi, Ashley Judd (2002's "High Crimes") appears throughout via sloppy,
randomly frivolous flashbacks that hold little insight into who Vivi
really is. One minute Vivi is warmly dancing with her daughter or
going to crafty lengths to satisfy her, and the next she is cursing
her children and beating them in the pouring rain with a belt. These
mood swings are never fully explored, nor do we understand why she
has them. Then again, we learn a sparse amount at all about Vivi,
even though the whole picture centers around her. Judd, who has had
infinitely better material in the past, at least gets to work with
the blueprint of an actual person. The younger versions of Teensy
(Jacqueline McKenzie), Caro (Katy Selverstone), and Necie (Kiersten
Warren) drift into the background of their shots, and their bond with
Vivi is not even described or made palpable. Furthermore, the younger
and older versions of these three characters are so cursorily drawn
as to be interchangeable with one another.
Rarely in a big-budget motion picture with such A-list stars has editing
been so haphazardly rendered. Complete scenes are dropped into the
middle of the story that lead literally nowhere. There is one sequence--no
lie--in which Vivi's three friends abruptly throw her into their car
to take her somewhere important, but no destination is reached before
it cuts to the following day. The particulars of the story, which
hopefully were more fleshed out in the book, prove confusing and occasionally
do not make sense.
While some of the performances might have proved effective in a more
tightly wound screenplay, the actors are forced to play types. Vivi,
for example, has a short temper and jumps to a lot of conclusions.
Sidda is resentful of her mother. Necie, Caro, and Teensy are the
comic relief. Vivi's neglected husband, Shep (James Garner), and Sidda's
Irish boyfriend, Connor (Angus McFadyen), are the token males. While
the performers have energy, that is all they have. Only Sandra Bullock
(2002's "Murder by Numbers"), as Sidda, delivers what could be considered
a focused, well-modulated turn.
Although I hate the term, "chick flick," that is invariably what "Divine
Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" is, and it's a surprisingly bad one.
Attempts at three-hanky melodrama are ineffectual and overly gooey,
while the comedy is lame and predictable. After suffering through
116 minutes of this artificial gagfest, I was left still pondering
what exactly the secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood were, and why they
were so damn divine in the first place.
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman