- The Washington Times - Friday, June 7, 2002

When it comes to "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood," there seems to be the brotherhood the men who presumably won't want to see this so-called "chick flick" and the sisterhood, its presumed female audience.
A headline on a review out of Los Angeles earlier this week caught my eye: "Never send a man to do a woman critic's job," it said. The review by a man called the film a "dreadful tear-jerker."
Another writer for the same newspaper posed this question: What's a chick flick?
Good question, judging from a conversation in my office this week. A male movie writer explained to one of my editors that a chick flick is a movie in which women complain and talk a lot, especially about men. No, she said, it's a sentimental flick with a lot of romance and no car explosions.
So there's definitely a disconnect here.
I scrolled to the next review moved by the wire service: "They talk, they laugh, they gripe and grouse, they accuse, they apologize, they wisecrack and mix up a fresh batch of Bloody Marys. Then they talk some more. A lot more."
Producer Bonnie Bruckheimer, a longtime partner of Bette Midler's who made "Beaches" (Miss Midler is credited as executive producer of "Secrets," but their company broke up before the film opened), says all the movie studios she approached but Warner Bros. rejected "Secrets" as a "chick flick."
Incidentally, one of her ex-husbands, Jerry Bruckheimer, also has a movie opening this weekend, "Bad Company," with Chris Rock and Anthony Hopkins.
Callie Khouri, who won an Oscar for her debut as a screenwriter for "Thelma & Louise," makes her directing debut with "Secrets." She also did the screenplay after first refusing the offer because of other projects. "I had done the women thing, with 'Thelma & Louise,' then I said to myself, 'Oh, shut up,'" she relates.
The opportunity to direct clinched the deal for her.
"Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" is based on Rebecca Wells' best seller of the same name and her first novel, "Little Altars Everywhere." Sandra Bullock plays New York playwright Sidda Lee Walker, who agrees to marry her boyfriend (Scottish actor Angus Macfadyen) after shying away from a commitment for many years.
A blow-up with her mother, Vivi, a lush, occurs when Sidda implies to a newsmagazine interviewer that Vivi was a less-than-ideal mother. "I can hear the ice clinking in your glass the sounds of my happy childhood," Sidda says sarcastically as she blows off steam during the movie.
The humiliation has Ellen Burstyn, as the aging Vivi, beside herself with rage.
Sidda also may not go through with her wedding. That's when the Ya-Yas Vivi's three zany lifelong friends decide to step in. The film shifts among time periods, and at the beginning, we are shown the four young Ya-Yas taking a blood oath of lifetime devotion to one another.
Maggie Smith, the great English actress, plays the adult Caro, who
drags her oxygen tank around with her after obviously paying the price for smoking heavily. The two other Ya-Yas are portrayed by Fionnula Flanagan (the housekeeper in "The Others") and Shirley Knight (most recently seen in "Angel Eyes").
The three abduct Sidda from New York back to her old neighborhood yes, a little over the top and use a scrapbook to plunge her into her mother's unhappy history. A theme of "Secrets" is the continuity of family troubles through generations unless they're stemmed. Some of the most compelling parts of Vivi's life are conveyed through actress Ashley Judd as Vivi as a young mother and her breakdown and abuse of her young children.
In condensing the story for the screen, Miss Khouri left out a dominating incident in Vivi's nightmarish childhood and failed to develop the character of Vivi's mother, a flaw that lessens the "motives" for Vivi's later behavior.
Miss Bullock gives a believable performance as a 1990s commitment-wary single woman at odds with her mother and her childhood but maybe we want to identify with her because she's contemporary and not an old loon.
James Garner, the man Vivi settled for after her beloved fiance became a casualty of war, is a sympathetic figure, less emotionally remote than in the book, as he tries to survive the years with his wife. "When I said for better or worse, I knew it was a coin toss," he tells Vivi.
This story is not subtle, but it has a ring of reality in some of the situations and characters.
It also has great music. "Waitin' for You," composed and performed by Bob Dylan for the movie, plays over the end credits….
TITLE: "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood"
RATING: PG-13 (mature thematic elements, including child abuse, language and brief sensuality)
CREDITS: Directed by Callie Khouri
RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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