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IN SHORT: Chick Flick, only with a happy ending. [Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, language and brief sensuality. 112 minutes]
Time and time again we repeat our primary code: we do not compare to Source Material and you should not have to read the Source Material to understand and/or appreciate the film adaptation. That being said, we sat for The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood with a crowd that was reacting like happy campers to elements that must have been greatly developed in the book because they weren't developed at all in this adaptation. Indeed, unless you listen with a hundred ten per cent attention, odds are you'll miss something. Doing some simple math puts the average age of the members of the Sisterhood at about seventy five. Only one of 'em looks the age. One has had a facelift -- a brief remark about scars behind the ears is the clue -- and the other pair are basking in the glow of Hollywood soft lighting.
Most books suffer from adaptations because of the very nature of the mediums. There is always too much material in any good book to make it to the big screen and keep the finished product at a reasonable two hours or so. What happens when the decision is made to condense not one but two books onto the big screen? You get a screenplay that plays like Cliff's notes with a story that moves from point to point like a stone skipping over a pond. Like that skipping stone, some will appreciate the poetry of motion. Some will watch the thing sink and move on. Gentlemen, welcome to The Sisterhood. Take your seat outside the meeting room and let your date enjoy her time.
Sidda Lee Walker (Sandra Bullock) is a successful Broadway playwright who, thanks to the fine people at Time magazine, is about to see her life go to hell thanks to a misunderstood reminiscence printed in that fine mag. The quote in the magazine, sorta kinda, thanks Sidda's mother Vivi (Ellen Burstyn) for beating her with a whip, thus instilling the youngster's talent. From suffering springs creativity or some such thing. The mother daughter brouhaha is such that Vivi's lifelong pals Teensy (Fionnula Flanagan), Necie (Shirley Knight), and Caro (Maggie Smith), aka the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, head from their homes in Louisiana to Sidda's joint in New York, there to retrieve the young lady, return her to her roots and set her straight.
But not before downing a bottle of vodka or two in both locations. Sidda's return to the bayou is not voluntary and, while carried out in a humorous fashion, would get any male busted and jailed.
When she comes to, Sidda is presented with a photo album she's never seen, filled with pictures that predate W.W.II -- the "Sisterhood" dates to 1937 as kidlet versions of grownups swear secrets and take pseudonymous Indian-themed nicknames like Vivi's Queen Dancing Creek-- and offer the filmmakers a ready made way to kick into a parallel flashback story featuring young Vivi (Ashley Judd), as she becomes a pill popping alcoholic and the worst mother in the world. She learns of her mother's true love and why her emasculated dad (James Garner) still hangs around. Sidda goes emotionally ballistic over the thought that an inability to form permanent relationships is genetic and telephones her Brit fiancé of seven years, Connor McGill (Angus Macfayden), with instructions to not send out the wedding invites. Connor hops a plane to try and save the day, heading for Vivi's neck of the woods since Sidda is being held at an unspecified location and he doesn't have the number to call her back.
The dimwit's been in New York for seven years (plus?) and doesn't know *69? Thank you and good night.
The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood are neither Divine nor secret. It is a story of friendship and support that spans the decades and had all the women in our screening -- which would have been 97 per cent of the audience -- applauding happily as the end credits rolled. We, not being female, were barely able to sit still for the story, a chick flick in everything but the requisite emotional waterworks which usually end these things. Ya-Ya ends happily which makes it fairly unique, we guess, but offered little to hold our interest (other than the presence of Sandra Bullock, which is usually more than enough. Not here.)
With the main characters of the Sisterhood shown at three different ages, first time director Callie Khouri should've stomped on her casting director. There is almost no physical resemblance to their older counterparts -- a young Sidda (Allison Bertolino) looks more like LeeLee Sobieski than Sandra Bullock. The ten year old-ish girls we first meet in "1937" look as if they're twenty in (roughly) 1942 -- even if they're supposed to be fifteen and Ashley Judd, as fresh looking as she is, doesn't even come close to looking that age. The young father (later, Garner) disappears without a trace or explanation for a good hunk of time, as will Sidda's brother and sister.
In its rush to get the best part of both books on to the screen, Ya-Ya is so much yada-yada, unless you've already done your research and submerged yourself in the black and white page. That's a failure in our book.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, he would have paid . . .
Add a lot more if you're of the female gender and already know the material. Like the old sign outside the Little Rascals clubhouse, The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood is definitely No Boys Allowed.
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