Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood Review
Siddalee Walker (Sandra Bullock) grew up in Louisiana and has become a successful playwright, about to get married to Connor (Angus MAcFadyen). When she talks about her abusive childhood to an interviewer, her mother Vivi (Ellen Burstyn) takes such offence she refuses to have anything more to do with her daughter. Enter Vivi's group of childhood friends, Necie (Shirley Knight), Teensy (Fionnula Flanagan) and Caro (Maggie Smith), who with Vivi make up the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. They aim to save the day by abducting Sidda and bringing her back to Louisiana, and on the way tell her Vivi's side of the story.
Callie Khouri won an Oscar for her screenplay of Thelma & Louise, and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood marks her directorial debut. It's based on two novels by Rebecca Wells, Divine Secrets... itself and Little Altars Everywhere. (Mark Andrus is credited with the adaptation.) The opening reel smartly zips through the necessary exposition but from about twenty minutes in we’re deep in Steel Magnolias country. Otherwise known as an opportunity for several senior actresses to ham it up for the best part of two hours. Ashley Judd, who plays the younger Vivi in a series of flashbacks, gives her role more intensity than it deserves, and as she doesn’t share any scenes with the other principals, seems to be in a different movie entirely. The men (MacFadyen, Garner as Vivi’s husband) spend most of the running time on the sidelines. Khouri’s directorial inexperience does show, unfortunately: she doesn’t handle the shifts in tone – from comedy to melodrama – very well, and the pace flags desperately in the second half. There are holes in the plot, which are due to lazy writing: the flashbacks establish that Sidda has brothers and sisters, so why is there no mention of them in the present day? As is often the case with first-time directors working for major studios, Khouri has been teamed with a very experienced DP, namely John Bailey. His Scope photography makes the film at least pleasant to look at, though he does overdo the orange filters to suggest period.
No doubt great numbers of the oestrogen-deficient will never set foot inside a cinema to see this. It’s certainly not the best example of its genre – in fact it’s pretty undistinguished for the most part, though to be fair I’ve seen far worse.