Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood
"Sugar levels are high, but so is vitriol."

The cinematic equivalent of a scrapbook should be messy. There are too many bits and a whole bunch of pieces.

Callie Khouri, who wrote the screeplay for Thelma And Louise, has done an excellent job, considering how much personal history has to be crammed into two hours. Set in Louisianna, where emotions run to seed and language lifts the spirit in accents as languid as soft summer fruit, the story concerns a rebellious daughter, a stubborn alcoholic mother and friends who take the law into their own hands.

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Reminiscent of How To Make An American Quilt, with its use of flashback to uncover youthful indiscretions of older women, Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood centres around Vivi's (Ellen Burstyn) dysfunctional relationship with her eldest daughter Siddalee (Sandra Bullock), who lives in New York and writes plays.

The Sisterhood consists of childhood friends (Maggie Smith, Fionnula Flanagan, Shirley Knight), who have watched Vivi's progress from a golden girl (Ashley Judd), destined to marry the handsomest young man in the county (Matthew Settle), to a frustrated wife who breaks under the strain of motherhood, to a disillusioned woman leading "a booze-soaked, self-centred, God forsaken life" with a devoted brick of a husband (James Garner), who can only stand and watch. "Was he just around for the heavy lifting?" Siddalee wants to know.

This could have been a two-hander, with Bullock and Burstyn battling it out for the soul of their self-respect, The introduction of The Sisterhood adds much needed humour ("Don't look at me with that tone of voice!") and sweet sanity, away from Vivi's haphazard craziness. Also, it is through them that the past is revealed.

Sugar levels are high, but so is vitriol. Khouri's script tackles tough subjects, such as mental breakdown and the bitter residue of grief. It is intelligently written and entertainingly performed - Smith's Southern drawl goes walkies every so often.

Burstyn plays a similar role to that in Quilt, only more so. Bullock cannot escape her stock-in-trade - independent girl with a lip. Judd has the meat. She's fiercely good. The boys don't get a look in. Angus MacFadyen, as Siddalee's significant other, makes little impact, despite his Celtic charm. Garner is great. He hasn't a lot to do, but watch him squeeze juice from the pips. Pure magic.

The film is easy on the ear and much fuller than you might expect. The South is still rich in eccentricity.

Reviewed on: 27 Sep 2002
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Life and troubles of ageing Southern belle, as told in flashback by her childhood friends.
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Director: Callie Khouri

Writer: Callie Kouri, Mark Andrus, based on novels by Rebecca Wells

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Ellen Burstyn, Maggie Smith, Fionnula Flanagan, Shirley Knight, Ashley Judd, Angus MacFadyen, James Garner, Matthew Settle

Year: 2002

Runtime: 116 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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