Too many people, too much confusion.
DIVINE SECRETS OF THE YA-YA SISTERHOOD
An Illusion review by Joan Ellis
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood may be a story of friendship, but itís not the light and lovely one the trailers led us to expect. With this movie writer/director Callie Khouri (Thelma and Louise) offers further proof that even when she sprinkles her films with laughter, her truth will lie in the dark side of something. The core scene of the film is so harrowing that no amount of lighthearted transformation can diminish the sadness she has generated. We leave with heavy hearts.
As young girls, Vivi (Ellen Burstyn), Teensy (Fionnula Flanagan), Necie (Shirley Knight) and Caro (Maggie Smith) cement a southern friendship with crowns, blood pricks, and an oath of eternal loyalty. Fast forward to years later when three of the group have gathered in an emergency meeting to solve the problem of the mother/daughter estrangement between Vivi and her daughter Sidda (Sandra Bullock). They will accomplish this, they hope, by revealing to Sidda, the secrets of her motherís past.
Now that we have just jumped from their youth to their old age, the film jumps backward to their young middle age where we must suddenly adjust to Ashley Judd as Vivi. As good as Ms. Judd may be as the tortured Vivi, she is just not plausible as the younger version of Ellen Burstyn. The confusion of needing to follow three time frames persists throughout the movie. As the three old women engineer the mother/daughter rescue, bits of their own lives are shown in flashback. There are laughs here, but they feel forced. Too many people, too much confusion.
That said, it is good fun to watch Maggie Smith play with a southern drawl, and to watch Ellen Burstyn steal the movie as Vivi. Ms. Burstyn, dressed to the nines and in fine acting form, simply grabs her character and runs.
Required as she is to do a lot of reacting, Sandra Bullock is in a tough spot as Sidda amongst the oldsters, but she does a good job with what sheís given. The men of this cast arenít noticeable with the mild exceptions of James Garner who is suitably withdrawn as Viviís husband and Angus McFadden, a charming knight waiting in the wings for Sidda.
When Callie Khouri hits us suddenly with a prolonged climax to Viviís midlife alcoholism, we are left shaken. Trying after that to climb back toward a happy ending is nearly futile. She drops a heavy emotional burden on the audience and then asks us to pop back to the surface. Itís too late for a quick recovery.
We are left to ponder the timeless mystery of the southern tradition of storytelling in Gothic darkness. Redemption comes on the wings of strong southern women who cover things up in a wave of frivolity. When reality is too much to bear, denial, strength, and superficial chatter are called in to banish the demons. Maybe thatís what itís all about.
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