Sept. 5, 2002 – What's a girl — a budding Broadway playwright — to do? When her play is about to open on the Great White Way, she spills the beans about her relationship with her Southern belle mother to Time magazine, thus revealing the "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood."
When Sidda Lee Walker (Sandra Bullock) tells Time her mother has "never gotten over anything in her entire bourgeois, self-centered, god-forsaken life," her mother, Vivi (Ellen Burstyn) throws a proper Southern belle fit.
Vivi's friends of four decades' standing — the Ya-Ya Sisterhood — step in. They want to present another side of Vivi to Sidda and avoid a permanent split between the mother and daughter which they fear also could interfere with Sidda's upcoming nuptials with her Irish fiancé (Angus MacFadyen).
So far, so good. We just hope it keeps the pace and doesn't bog down into what's known as a "chick flick" — a touchy, teary movie. (It is a term also adopted by males who are at a loss to understand certain films.)
The movie stays true to Rebecca Wells' best seller and rises above the potential emotional pitfalls as the Ya-Ya trio — Maggie Smith, Fionnula Flannagan and Shirley Knight (with Ashley Judd as the young Vivi)– takes Sidda aside. Through album and anecdotes, they transport her to an old summer cottage where they try to show the eccentric and vivacious Vivi in a different light than Sidda has grown up knowing and cannot as an adult come to terms with. They start flipping through the pages of an old scrapbook, and it's belles and booze, oh my.
The story is told in a series of frequently boozy flashbacks, illustrating the lives of the ladies, from youngsters to young women, in intimate detail — and without too much "yadda, yadda, yadda," according to one critic. The usually acerbic, and at best hard-to-please, Eleanor Ringel Gillespie of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution says she "couldn't even finish the book, and approached the movie with utter dread," only to be pleasantly surprised. "Anyone who knows to hire a bunch like that knows how to make this movie," she opined.
Its cannot have been an easy movie to make, charting a difficult relationship with the hope that the daughter can find forgiveness for her effervescent but troubled mother. Another critic hit it on the head for some of us, calling the film "a stirring journey for anyone whose eyes ever rolled skyward at the sound of Mom's voice."
Callie Khouri, who wrote the Oscar-winning script for "Thelma and Louise" 10 years ago, directed and adapted the screenplay. Khouri knows her women. She doesn't do "chick flicks."
Gillespie says Khouri has streamlined the story, "with its grating Ya-Ya-isms and not-so-explosive secrets. And as a director, she's kept things clean and simple, wisely letting her cast take over. And they do."
Even with streamlining, the film is almost two hours long. It's rated PG-13 for the usual odd reasons — mature thematic elements, language and brief sensuality. Those briefs again.
It's playing at Sunny Isle Theaters.
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