Divine Secrets Of The Ya-ya Sisterhood
Adapted from the best-selling Rebecca Wells novel, Divine Secrets is about a mother and daughter who are forced to repair their troubled relationship before it becomes irreparably damaged--with a little help from the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, of course.
A promising young playwright, Sidda Lee Walker (Sandra Bullock), lives in New York, far enough away from her Louisiana hometown. After she gives a damaging interview to Time magazine--damaging mainly to her mother, Vivianne Abbott Walker (Ellen Burstyn), who doesn't take lightly to her daughter's intonations that she was not a good mother--the two women begin a feud. It threatens to destroy not only their relationship but Sidda's own plans to marry her longtime boyfriend, Connor (Angus MacFadyen). Enter the Ya-Ya Sisterhood--Caro (Maggie Smith), Teensy (Fionnula Flanagan) and Necie (Shirley Knight), Vivi's lifelong best friends. To bring mother and daughter back together, the women decide it's time for Sidda to learn about the Divine Secrets of their little clique--and about her mother's painful past. They tell Sidda stories about the young Vivi (Ashley Judd), who was full of promise and hope but how certain tragic events damaged her. The bond between these four older women is unshakable and the most honest element to the film. The sad news for the novel's fans, however, is that while the script manages to convey the true spirit of friendship, it can't quite capture the magic of the book.
In a cast of many, the film is chock-full of wonderful performances, but it's the matured Ya-Yas who steal the show. Smith plays the tough Caro, a lifelong smoker now saddled with emphysema, with all the biting wit the actress is best known for, while Knight plays the sweet, no-nonsense Necie with just a hint of sarcasm. Flanagan, the best of the three, shines as the wealthy Teensy, a recovering alcoholic who has faced demons herself. Her exchanges are some of the more memorable, especially when, after being told by an angry Vivi that she could knock Teensy into next week, Teensy tells her friend, ''And I'll kick your ass on Thursday.'' Yet, the film truly belongs to Burstyn and Judd, as the different faces of Vivi. Burstyn is all at once the highly dramatic Southern beauty who has come to terms with (or remained steeped in denial about, however you look at it) her painful past, while Judd gets to show us the nitty-gritty of what actually happened to Vivi to harden her. Unfortunately, the weakest member of this ensemble cast is Bullock as Sidda. She never quite convinces us she grew up in such an eccentric and terribly Southern environment. And not to leave out the men completely--James Garner plays Sidda's father, Shep, with quiet patience, having survived life with his lady love, who never loved him quite the same in return. The devoted Connor mirrors Shep, but MacFadyen plays him with a lot more backbone.
Oscar-winning screenwriter Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise) couldn't have chosen a better film to make as her directorial debut. Sure, she might be pigeonholed forever as the ''chick flick'' girl, but she probably doesn't care much. Khouri had been approached to adapt Wells' novel a few times over the last couple of years but never had the time to do it. When the right time came along, Khouri wisely decided it was also time to take on the directing chores. Even as a novice, the writer/director shows us she knows her way around a camera. The film captures that Southern feel, lush and languid, as the moss drips down from the trees. She also knows how to handle her actors, too, and is able to elicit great performances (although with the likes of Burstyn and Smith, this isn't hard to do). The soundtrack also is an added bonus, with a variation of music from jazz to Louisiana Cajun. Yet, even with all this going for it, Divine Secrets misses a beat. In a novel, it's great to read stories about an eccentric Southern family, but to have vignettes told to you as a framework for a movie, it can slow a film down. You probably won't be able to drag your husband to go see this one.
The hype isn't wrong--Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood is definitely a film better suited for a female audience, and it has plenty of wonderful moments to make us remember our best friends.