Americana Movie Month: "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" Review


Americana Movie Month: "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" Review

-- Rating: PG-13
Length: 116 minutes
Release Date: June 7, 2002
Directed By: Callie Khouri
Genre: Drama, comedy

"The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" proves that chick flicks can be great films. First-time director Callie Khouri, who adapted the screenplay from two novels authored by Rebecca Wells, has done a masterful job at portraying the strength of childhood friendships and the mother-daughter angst that can develop when secrets are kept.

The movie opens in 1937 with a group of four young girls in rural Louisiana-Vivi, Teensy, Caro, and Necie-who sneak out to the woods at night wearing handmade headdresses. To pledge their undying loyalty to each other, they take a blood oath and form a group they call the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.

The story flashes forward to New York City in 2002, where Siddalee Walker, Vivi's daughter, has become a successful playwright. During an interview for "Time" magazine, Siddalee mentions that her somewhat-rocky childhood was an inspiration for much of her work. In true tabloid tradition, the reporter reads what she wants into Siddalee's vague comments. When the story is published, it implies that the playwright had to undergo years of abuse at the hands of her mother.

When she sees the article, Vivi is incensed and tells Siddalee, called Sidda by friends and family, that she wants nothing more to do with her. Sidda is more than ready to engage in a full-out war with her mother, and she responds in kind. The other girls from the Ya-Ya Sisterhood of Vivi's youth hear about the conflict between mother and daughter, and they are determined to make things right.

Necie, Caro, and Teensy make their way to New York purportedly to visit with Sidda. Instead, they drug her and bring her back to Louisiana. Instead of forcing her to confront her mother, they give Sidda a scrapbook detailing Vivi's life. As they go through the scrapbook, Sidda winds up confronting her mother's past. She learns of her mother's childhood, in which she was forced to deal with racism and accusations of incest with her father, as well as the challenges she faced later in life, including the loss of the man that she believed to be her soulmate and the years she spent in an unhappy marriage.

When Sidda learns of her mother's eventual nervous breakdown and subsequent hospitalization, she truly begins to understand what her mother has gone through and forgives her. To celebrate, Vivi and her friends induct Sidda into the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.

Sandra Bullock, who plays the role of Sidda, does a wonderful job of bringing a troubled mother-daughter relationship to life. Bullock had already gained critical acclaim in films such as the "Speed" and "Miss Congeniality" franchises, "Forces of Nature," "While You Were Sleeping," and "Two Weeks Notice." She went on to take the lead roles in the 2009 smash hit "The Blind Side" and the 2011 film "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close." Although she was nominated for a Teen Choice Award for her portrayal of Sidda, she did not walk home with any awards for this movie.

The hard-drinking, tantrum-throwing elderly Vivi was portrayed by award-winning actress Ellen Burstyn. Her long acting career began back in 1958, when she became a regular on many hit television shows. Burstyn is best known for her role in the 1974 hit "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," which garnered her an Oscar and several other awards. She also had lead roles in films such as "W.," "The Elephant King," and "Same Time Next Year."

Ashley Judd received Phoenix Film Critics Society and Prism Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress for her role as the younger Vivi. Judd is best known for her roles in the hit movies "Kiss the Girls," "Double Jeopardy," and "High Crimes."

The roles of the older Ya-Ya Sisters were magnificently played by Shirley Knight, Maggie Smith, and Fionnula Flanagan. Their younger counterparts were played by Jacqueline McKenzie, Katy Selverstone, and Kiersten Warren. James Garner outdid himself in the role of Vivi's long-suffering husband, Shep Walker.

Callie Khouri made a smart move by having her screenplay stay fairly close to Marc Andrus' adaptation of the Rebecca Wells novels, and she completely avoided the pitfalls of delving into the inevitable feminist politics. Instead, she relied on the supreme acting talent to shine, and the actresses did just that. This is a heartfelt story of what happens when mothers shield their daughters from the truth and the painful path that often must be taken to make the relationship whole. It's a good thing cell phones were commonplace in 2002 when the film was released, as it's a pretty sure bet that a lot of audience members wanted to call their mothers as soon as the movie ended.

Rating: 3 out of 5