Originally created 06/25/02

'Divine Secrets' better left unsaid


MPAA RATING: PG-13 for mature thematic elements, language and brief sensuality

CAST: Ellen Burstyn, Sandra Bullock, Ashley Judd, Maggie Smith, Fionnula Flanagan

DIRECTOR: Callie Khouri

RUNNING TIME: 1 hour, 56 minutes


Daughter hurts mother. Mother gets mad. Friends come to the rescue.

It sounds simple, and it is. You would think such a simple story would result in simple storytelling - but you'd be wrong.

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood - based on the novels Little Altars Everywhere and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells, who helped write the screenplay - is a potentially cute tale about hurt, friendship and understanding. It starts out strong but soon gets lost amid a wave of irrelevant flashbacks.

Sidda Walker (Sandra Bullock) is a Manhattan playwright whose comments in a magazine interview about her childhood are misinterpreted and her mother, Vivi (Ellen Burstyn, The Baby-Sitter's Club), is hurt to the point of disowning Sidda.

Enter the friends. Teensy (Fionnula Flanagan, The Others), Necie (Shirley Knight, Angel Eyes) and Caro (Maggie Smith, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) are three Southern belles who are members of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, along with Vivi. This trio of over-the-top drinkers resembles stereotypical Southern caricatures more than actual people. They decide the only way to save the relationship between their friend and her aggravated daughter is to kidnap Sidda and force her to learn about the secrets of her mother's troubled life.

With the help of Sidda's fiance, Connor (Angus McFadyen, Braveheart) the trio manages to achieve that goal, and off to Louisiana they go to discuss all their secrets.

This is where we're treated to a number of flashbacks that serve no purpose but to show Vivi's wild nature. They confuse the audience, as we never can remember which of the women is who as a child and then as a teen-ager. Don't get me wrong - I did enjoy a few of the flashbacks. But having so many of them and mixing them up (they don't happen in chronological order) wasn't enjoyable at all when I was already antsy over the movie's slow pace.

One positive aspect of the flashbacks is the entertaining Ashley Judd, who gives an unbelievable performance as a younger Vivi. She outshines everyone - with the exception of Ms. Burstyn, who's just as remarkable as the upset and frail older Vivi.

I wish I could say I enjoyed Ms. Bullock's performance, but she just didn't cut it for me in this film. Maybe it was the lackluster story she had to work with, sitting around and listening to older women recount tales about her mother. We're supposed to feel for her as she tries to cope with learning about her mother's harsh childhood living conditions, but I couldn't. The two hadn't seen each other in seven years. Why all the drama now?

Throughout this twisted drama, a little humor is thrown in, and I could at least laugh. The most depressing part of the whole film is that your time is wasted waiting for it to finally end.

If director Callie Khouri had stuck to simple storytelling and hadn't lead up to some huge expected ordeal that never comes, I would have enjoyed the movie more. If you're in the mood to watch a good Southern drama, go pick up a copy of Steel Magnolias. Don't waste $7 on this overly dramatic film.

Teen board member Chelsey Willis, 16, is a rising senior at Lincoln County High School.


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