[box cover]

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

If Hollywood is to be believed, something about growing up in the South turns women into quirky, often-hysterical drama queens. From Gone With the Wind to Fried Green Tomatoes to Steel Magnolias, the movies have introduced us to generations of high-strung belles with a penchant for men, booze, complicated mother-daughter relationships, and odd names like "Ouiser" and "Idgie." Callie "Thelma and Louise" Khouri's latest entry, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (based on Rebecca Wells' novel of the same name), is no exception. Sandra Bullock stars as Siddalee Walker, a Louisiana native turned successful Manhattan playwright who makes the mistake of being a little too honest about her childhood with a reporter; the resulting article drives a wedge between Sidda and her fiery, emotional mother, Vivi (Ellen Burstyn). That's when the Ya-Yas — Vivi's three lifelong friends (played by Maggie Smith, Shirley Knight, and Fionnula Flanagan) — butt in, hauling Sidda back to Cajun country for a relationship intervention. Through a complicated series of flashbacks, Sidda learns a lot about her mother (played by Caitlin Wachs as a girl and Ashley Judd as a young woman) and her own history, ultimately discovering the Big Secret that Vivi has been hiding for decades. Unfortunately, the revelation is a bit underwhelming — as is the film itself. Despite a strong cast (the three Ya-Yas are delightful, even if they are a bit broadly painted, and Burstyn could give Shirley Maclaine's Aurora Greenway a run for her money in the high-maintenance mom department), first-time director Khouri's focus is lost among the multitude of characters and time-shifting flashbacks. Furthermore, interesting subplots — like Vivi's bizarre relationship with her own parents — are brushed aside in favor of too many scenes about boozing and yelling. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood will definitely appeal to certain audiences (the Ya-Ya-aged fans of Oprah's Book Club, for example), but all the Southern charm in the world can't make it much more than just a passable chick flick. That said, Warner has given the film a nice treatment on DVD. The anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) is strong (a pan-and-scan version is available in a separate edition), and the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio showcases the southern-fried soundtrack quite nicely (a French 5.1 track is available, as are English, French, and Spanish subtitles). The list of extras is healthy, if not exactly innovative: In addition to two full-length commentaries (one a fawning gush-fest featuring Judd and Khouri, the other a too-crowded track with Khouri and five other crew members), the disc offers deleted scenes (16 min.), an Alison Krauss music video, a standard "making-of" featurette (14 min.), the trailer, cast and crew filmographies, and a Ya-Ya scrapbook that's a too-elaborate potluck of still photos and short video clips. Snap-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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