- Jun 28, 2000
It's easy to foresee grownup daughters and mothers embracing Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood as the movie they traditionally watch together. But they needn't fall for its Hallmark card excess. Based on a popular novel by Rebecca Wells, and marking the directorial debut of Thelma and Louise scribe Callie Khouri, the film tells a story of how generational discord can lead to understanding with the realization that (gasp!) there was a time when old people were young. Sidda Lee Walker (Sandra Bullock) is a New York playwright who has lost chemistry with her mother Vivi (Ellen Burnstyn). When Vivi's friends, who named themselves The Ya-Ya Sisterhood as children, kidnap Sidda, they instruct her on the turbulent events of Vivi's Southern upbringing. Everything that works in the film is attributed solely to the strengths of the older cast members. Burnstyn, Maggie Smith, and Shirley Knight are permitted firey indulgence, while Bullock and Ashley Judd, appearing as Vivi in 1960s flashbacks (no this isn't a ‘Nam film), are afforded dull and nondescript parts. It doesn't help that the script considers elderly characters swearing and discussing alcoholism to be the pinnacle of comic genius. Or that Khouri fails to visually distinguish the various time settings of her flashback structure–the whole film is shot in the comfortable homeliness of house-light yellows, which suggests nothing distinct about either the past or present. It unfolds in one gigantic act, featuring excursions (such as Sidda's childhood plane ride with her mother) which may be tolerated in a novel, but are insignificant in the compressed structuralism of film. By avoiding narrative organization, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood's two hours feels closer to three.