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.