Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

| June 12, 2002

About two-thirds of the way through this almost 2 hour long film, one of the characters says, “I can’t wait for it to be over.” At that point, that was my thought, exactly. To be fair, in spite of its shortcomings, I suspect that many under-served, mature audiences, especially women, will embrace this film, faults and all. I wouldn’t want to keep anyone away that is familiar with the material/concept & inclined to attend. They actually might appreciate it. As for me, however, I was very disappointed.
The story centers on an estranged mother (Vive) and daughter (Sidda) and the attempts of a group of the mother’s life-long Louisiana lady friends to mend the long-standing rift. Since the majority of the talent both in front of and behind the camera is female, this will be dubbed a “chick flick”, a term I dislike but understand. My objections have nothing to do with gender. What I do object to is the weak/unfocused direction of Callie Khouri. This is the woman who definitely deserved the Oscar she won for writing 1992’s Thelma & Louise. She also wrote the script for one of my personal favorites, Something To Talk About (1995).
Based on the evidence here – her first try at directing a feature film – being able to write doesn’t necessarily mean that a person can or should direct. Her decision to use multiple flashbacks, for no particular reason and with no particular rhythm, causes much confusion and took me out of the moment every single time. Since the time-span covered is something like 60 years, two or three actors are called upon to portray many of the characters at different points in their lives. I never felt they were connected and found this especially annoying for the main character ,Vive, who is played first by Caitlin Wachs, as a girl, then by Ashley Judd as a young wife/mother, and finally by Ellen Burstyn as a seventy-year-old.
The acting, especially by Ms. Judd and Ms. Burstyn, is excellent; but I never once felt like they were the same person at different times in Vive’s life. I liked all the performances but don’t feel they ever blended properly. Thank goodness these talented elder stateswomen (Maggie Smith, Shirley Knight, and Fionnula Flanagan) are getting some film work, however. I always enjoy Sandra Bullock (daughter Sidda, here), but her lack of a Southern accent was troubling. However, I continue to be impressed by Matthew Settle who is effective in a small part.
Although set in Louisiana, North Carolina makes a reasonable stand-in and looks great. The music in the film is outstanding and includes an original new song, “Waitin’ For You” from Bob Dylan, that is worthy of award consideration.
I fully expected Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood to join Steel Magnolias (1989), Fried Green Tomatoes (1991) and How To Make An American Quilt (1995) as one of my favorite “Southern Lady” films.
Not even close…

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