Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood

2002, Movie, PG-13, 116 mins


A colorful riot of Southern-fried fussin', fightin' and feudin', in which a commitment-shy bride-to-be must finally confront the larger-than-life mother whose histrionics have shaped her life. With both a Broadway play and a wedding in the works, successful dramatist Siddalee Walker (Sandra Bullock) inadvertently offends her beautiful, willful, charming, melodramatic, unpredictable and thoroughly impossible mother, Vivi (Ellen Burstyn), whose rage threatens to ripen into permanent estrangement. So Vivi's lifelong friends, Teensy (Fionnula Flanagan), Caro (Maggie Smith) and Necie (Shirley Knight), known collectively as the Ya-Yas (after a secret club they organized as precocious girls in Thornton, La.) take action. Unbeknownst to queen bee Vivi, the Ya-Yas travel to New York in hopes of persuading Siddalee to reconcile with her crazy mama. When she refuses, they drug her and fly her South for a tearful trip down memory lane. Alternating between past and present, the film charts the tempestuous lives of younger Vivi (Ashley Judd), Teensy (Jacqueline McKenzie), Caro (Katy Selverstone) and Necie (Kiersten Warren) as headstrong wives and mothers who help each other — actually, mostly they all help Vivi — survive alcoholism, prescription drug addiction, the death of loved ones, madness and the bitter legacy of dreams deferred, while remaining impeccably dressed and coiffed. Like TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (1983) and STEEL MAGNOLIAS (1989), this tear-stained paean to the bonds that unite women glides along on a cloud of chatty cattiness, and seeing veteran actresses Burstyn, Smith, Flanagan and Knight tear up the screen is an unabashed delight. But the film, adapted from two novels by actress and playwright Rebecca Wells, suffers from an excess of material crammed into too little screen time. There's so much story that the characters get short shrift; you have to wonder, for example, what became of Siddalee's three siblings, who figure in most of the flashbacks and have no present-day presence. More important, with the exception of the ever-vivid Vivi, the younger Ya-Yas all run together(at least for someone who hasn't read the books); the grande dames can bring sheer force of personality to bear on every word and gesture, but the underwritten characters put the younger actresses at a disadvantage. The film also comes dangerously close to endorsing, at least implicitely, the Ya-Ya credo that everything looks better through the bottom of a glass — Vivi is at her worst when she stops drinking and gets hooked on dexamyl — which a couple of flashbacks, devoted to how Teensy wound up at AA, might have ameliorated. Cavils aside, many mothers and daughters will recognize themselves and each other in these impossible and infuriating but never dull characters. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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