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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002)



Reviews and Comments

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood is light and breezy, a fun little trifle for consumers of melodramatic TV movies. It looks good, the stars look better, and there are some good lines in it. But can anybody take it seriously? It exists in an utterly fabricated world. It is one thing, for example, for a movie or television show to wrap up the problems of the world in a couple of hours. It is another when the characters themselves expect this to happen. The plot? Three old ladies kidnap the daughter of a fourth, in hopes that they can get the two on speaking terms again.

Actually, I don't object to this premise on principle. The right kind of comedy can do this right. But given that Divine Secrets fails, the premise does look a little foolish. The real problem is the character of the mother, played by Ellen Burstyn in the present and Ashley Judd in flashbacks. Particularly in the flashbacks, this character alternates between Best Mom and Worst Mom. The two are so drastically different, and the transitions never really seen, that it's difficult to reconcile the two. Her eldest daughter has grown up to be resentful, justifiably it would seem, but she is ignorant of information that would explain her memories. The movie gears up to this big revelation, her mother's dark secret. I won't say what it is; suffice it to say that it's what we have already known all along, only maybe it's not her fault, except...I'm not sure the big secret actually explains as much as the movie suggests it should, because the real behavioral problem began long before the secret accounts for. In any case, the revelations come too late: by that time, the movie has already asked us to place sympathies in all the wrong places.

There comes a point when I grow tired of weepy dramas about terminally dysfunctional people. Normal people are interesting enough -- more interesting, I would argue, since even the weirdest people are still going to relate more to an everyman (everywoman?) on the screen than a whacko with colorful quirks. Dysfunction can work in stories, of course, but not when it is employed so transparently as a means to create a conflict and pave the road by which a plot can resolve it.

The film was directed by Callie Khouri, who wrote Thelma & Louise, a movie that celebrated crime so long as it was committed in the name of feminism. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood is less offensive, but the message is clear: the men in this film exist to be involved with their women, nothing more. It's a shame to see James Garner wasted in this role; on the other hand, he does have one of the film's best scenes (a simple chat with his daughter; nothing impressive so much as congenial and true) so that's something, in any case. I comment on the film's views of the sexes by way of observation more than criticism. Still, unlike some films that are naturally about men or women and not the other, this one excludes men unrealistically.