Mark Reviews Movies


1 Ĺ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Callie Khouri

Cast: Sandra Bullock, Ellen Burstyn, Flonnula Flanagan, Shirley Knight, Maggie Smith, Ashley Judd, Angus MacFadyen, James Garner

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic elements, language and brief sensuality)

Running Time: 1:56

Release Date: 6/7/02

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Review by Mark Dujsik

In what way are the Ya-Yasí secrets divine? The word has only one connotation, that of being associated with a higher power. So what kind of secrets could they possibly hold? Nothing divine in any way, thatís for sure. So why call them "divine secrets?" My guess is that it simply sounds better than "predictable secrets" or "secrets hidden under a deranged quirkiness so as to hide whatever unconvincing pathos may result from their revelation" or "secrets that just about everyone in the movie knows but that are kept from the audience simply to mock them." Any of these possibilities would be more suitable to Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, a dull, inconsistent, dishonest female bonding picture. Awkwardly trying to mix eccentric humor and dark psychological anguish, the movie stumbles over its purpose and tries to manipulate the ends because it doesnít posses the means.

Since the movie is about female bonding, it invariably takes place in the SouthóLouisiana, to be specific. Vivi (Ellen Burstyn), Teensy (Fionnula Flanagan), Necie (Shirley Knight), and Caro (Maggie Smith) are lifelong friends, who made a blood pact long ago to become lifelong friends and Ya-Ya priestesses. I can only imagine that keeping secrets was part of that pact as well, and the women, now in their 60s, have a book conveniently titled "The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood," which contains no secrets but many, many photographs chronicling their lives as privileged debutantes. The mementos are the subject of revelation for Viviís daughter Sidda (Sandra Bullock), who has written a play about her troubled childhood. After an interview in Time magazine changes enough of Siddaís comments to infuriate Vivi, the other Ya-Ya sisters concoct a plan to drug Sidda and bring her back to Louisiana to learn the truth about her mother, all the while keeping Vivi in the dark.

From this point on, the movie becomes a series of flashbacks where we learn the oh-so tragic story of Viviís past. Itís the kind of past you expect in a movie about a rich, white woman who had a boyfriend go off to fight in World War II, married a different man for reasons unbeknownst to anyone, and regrets having children when she was still young enough to appreciate life. The young Vivi is played by Ashley Judd in the kind of performance that works despite the fact that character motivation is suspect and development hastened. As flashback mounts upon flashback, something has to come from them, right? Nope. The characters already know the big secret (does this still qualify it as a secret?), but they donít talk about it until itís convenient for the plot. By the time it is revealed, we come to realize that these characters belong in an asylum, not a movie. And the ultimate lesson the characters learn: the need to take responsibility for and get over themselves and not blame themselves for the behavior of others. I could have told them that within five minutes and saved a lot of time in the process.

With a cast like this, itís a shame to see such talent wasted. Sandra Bullock makes a wrong turn in trying to regain her star status. Her performance is a series of tantrums and breakdowns, highlighted by an accent which she breaks into for about three seconds every ten minutes or so. Ellen Burstynís Vivi consists of the same essential dramatic arc, but her accent and performance is far more convincing than Bullockís. Then thereís poor Maggie Smith who, after such great work in Gosford Park, finds herself forced to walk around slowly in the background with an oxygen tank. The rest of the Ya-Yas sit in the corner occasionally popping up to say something funny only to retreat as the gloom and doom returns. They fare worse in the flashback scenes where almost no effort is made to differentiate them. Two men accompany the proceedings; one is Viviís husband played by James Garner and the other Siddaís fiancť played by Angus MacFadyen. They exist to not understand their female counterparts and sporadically say something to upset them.

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood is directed by Callie Khouri who wrote the screenplay for Thelma and Louise. That film was of its time, while this one has no place. Itís a generic formula piece based on a pair of supposedly popular novels. This fact will of course induce the usual "the book sheds much more light on the movie" argument. I donít know if thatís true, but I shouldnít have to eitheróa movie needs to stand on its own merits. Hardly a secret, but Hollywood sometimes acts like itís one as big as the mystery of what happened to Viviís other children, who appear briefly in the flashbacks but are absent for the rest of the time. Lucky kids.

Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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