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Sidda Lee Walker (Sandra Bullock) is a successful playwright living in New York, far from her dramatic, eccentric mother Vivi (Ellen Burstyn), who lives in Louisiana with her father Shep (James Garner). When a Time Magazine profile is published on Sidda, Vivi is outraged at the implications that she was not a good mother, and the subsequent fight threatens to destroy not only their unstable relationship, but Sidda’s seven year relationship with Connor (Angus MacFadyen). Vivi’s childhood friends, the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (Fionnula Flanagan, Shirley Knight, Maggie Smith) formed before their teens, are keen to restore peace and believe that confronting the past is the answer. 

Review by Louise Keller:
What starts as a light-hearted comedy, quickly develops into a powerful emotional drama dealing with friendships and that special mother/daughter relationship. I’m not sure whether this rates it a chick flick, but first time director Callie Khouri (who wrote Thelma and Louise) has certainly tapped into many perceptions that ring true. Personally, I think Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood is divine. Not in the religious sense, of course (although there is a mystical scene when Ellen Burstyn chants a wistful request under a moonlit tree surrounded by candles), but in its overall journey. It’s credit to Khouri and the marvellous cast, that despite a complex structure covering three different time periods, the result is so enjoyable and we get deeply involved in the characters. Set in Louisiana, where Southern drawls are at home with the likes of Margaret Mitchell’s Scarlett O’Hara, during the first half an hour, I laughed so much I cried; in the last half hour, the tears were real. Quaint rituals by impressionable young girls and recollections of their secret fantasies develop into squabbles over Bloody Marys, nostalgic memories and emotional seesaws involving friends, lovers, siblings and parents. Sandra Bullock is simply superb as Sidda, the successful playwright, whose published interview about her upbringing ‘If I had an easy childhood I would have absolutely nothing to write about’ deepens the already shaky ground in her relationship with her mother Vivi. Bullock conveys her most inner thoughts and feelings by simple facial expressions and is a delight to watch. Her stormy relationship with her mother (Burstyn is extraordinary in a showy role) goes up and down like a lift out of control, and concludes in a scene with maximum emotional impact due to Bullock’s sublime understated response. All the Ya-Yas are wonderful – especially Maggie Smith’s oxygen puffing Caro and Fionnula Flanagan’s Teensy who drives a Rolls Royce like a racing car. Look out for the restaurant scene when the Ya-Yas slip a mickey into Sidda’s drink, Smith mischievously tasting the drink in question, as if to gloat about their plan in advance. Both James Garner and Angus MacFadyen deliver plenty of oomph in the male character roles: it is Garner’s Shep that convinced me this film was written by a woman – only a woman could know the wisdom of a man who ignores a woman’s flaws. Ashley Judd is mesmerising as the young Vivi, displaying all the complexities of a flawed young mother when life gets the better of her. Splendid settings, production design and terrific editing give the film a sense of place, while the soundtrack never lets up with a string of timeless tunes with poignant lyrics and a compelling original score. 

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Men are portrayed in a typically contradictory light in Ya Ya land: on one hand they are incidental to the real business of women living lives torpedoes by emotion and buoyed by love. On the other hand, they are pivotal to the lives of mothers and wives and as a result, the men float in and out of focus in this film. But I’m not complaining. In fact, my only complaint about the film is that it must take a woman’s unique and wonderful emotional radar to keep up with the criss cross of characters and their emotional journeys, jumping back and forward in time for much of the film. It is often several scenes later that, through some detective work, I can piece information and characters together in the right order. Adroitly squeezing a book into a movie, Callie Khouri and Mark Andrus achieve with great economy something of value: they capture the story, resolve the emotional plot and create rich, real characters we can identify and care about. Of course, the latter is thanks to a superlative cast, who should probably win some sort of ensemble Oscar. All that is enough good reason to see the film, but another reason (for men) is to get a good insight into how women are made. And that’s worth the price of admission alone.

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

PRODUCER: Bonnie Bruckheimer, Hunt Lowry

DIRECTOR: Callie Khouri

SCRIPT: Callie Khouri with adaptation by Mark Andrus (based on the novel Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Little Altars Everywhere by Rebecca Wells)


EDITOR: Andrew Marcus

MUSIC: T Bone Burnett and David Mansfield


RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes



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