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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review
Divine Secrets of the
Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002)

1 Star

Directed by Callie Khouri
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Ellen Burstyn, Ashley Judd, Fionnula Flanagan, Maggie Smith, Shirley Knight, James Garner, Angus McFadyen, Leslie Silva, Cherry Jones, Allison Bertolino, Jacqueline McKenzie, Kiersten Warren, Katy Selverstone, David Lee Smith, Matthew Settle, David Rasche, Gina McKee
2002 – 116 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for language, child abuse, and brief sensuality).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, June 7, 2002.

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.

©2002 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman