Troy versus Athens. Serb versus Croat. Mother versus daughter. Some conflicts just have an eternal ring to them. But when the dust finally settles on civilization I suspect mothers and daughters will still be wrestling with the possibility that they have TOO much in common with each other.
"Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" is happy to open this can of worms in a smart and successful adaptation of Rebecca Wells bestselling novel. In one corner is Sidda Walker, played by Sandra Bullock, a recently engaged Manhattan playwright. In the other is her mother, Vivi Walker, played by Ellen Burstyn, a Louisiana matron and something of a dramatist in her own right. When a Time magazine profile of Sidda comes out and she reads her recollections of a troubled upbringing in print, the horrified Sidda can see the writing on the wall. Or more accurately, the phone on the table that is about to ring with her hurt and outraged mother on the other end. In a hilarious sequence of escalating snippiness, the two women cut each other out of their lives.
This is a troubling disturbance in the force for the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, an ancient order made up of Vivi and her three best friends since childhood, played with unfettered glee by Maggie Smith, Shirley Knight and Fionnula Flanagan. Unbeknownst to Vivi, the rest of the Sisterhood shows up at Sidda's door in New York seeking to arbitrate a reconciliation. Failing that, they drug her with a horse tranquilizer and drag her back to Louisiana for a gently administered reeducation program in which long held secrets are revealed and Sidda slowly comes to understand the source of her mother's private suffering.
Screenwriter Callie Khouri makes her directing debut with "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" and nimbly handles the daunting array of colorful characters, multi-generational storylines, frequent flashbacks and Deep South cliches. Khouri moves things along briskly when efficiency is called for and pauses thoughtfully when we least expect it, including a long scene where Ashley Judd, playing the younger Vivi, stares silently at herself in the mirror of a motel room after running away from her family. If there's a criticism it's that even people like myself who didn't read the book can sense when the film is skimming over good material in the rush to wrap things up under two hours.
And other people like myself - namely men - might be wondering if a film so vested in the female bonding experience offers anything for them. I suggest approaching the film the way James Garner does his role as the husband and father of the quarreling mother and daughter.....don't fight it, keep your mouth shut and watch from the sidelines with great amusement.
© 2002 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 6/5/02
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
US - 2002