According to some professionals, conflict between parents and their children often results from children never really understanding who their parents are. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood capitalizes on this theme as Vivi Walker’s (Ellen Burstyn) friends decide the only way to clear up the estrangement between Vivi and her daughter Sidda Lee (Sandra Bullock) is to kidnap her. Actually, they just want time with Sidda Lee to let her know what her mother was like as a young woman.
Sidda Lee does not take to this plan well. Especially since the kidnapping occurs only days before she’s to marry her fiancée (Angus MacFadyen) who has waited seven years for her to say yes. But Vivi’s friends Teensy (Fionnula Flanagan), Necie (Shirley Knight), and Caro (Maggie Smith) complete the act with the young man's blessing. The plot unfolds as the women force Sidda Lee to rediscover her life through a photo album and stories shared by the Ya-Yas about their secret meetings and shared adventures.
Although I would call Ya-Ya a chick-flick, men who are in the mood for some hilarious laughter should enjoy watching these old pros dish it out. Burstyn is absolutely brilliant as the defiant and self-persecuting mother. Even her relationship with her husband Shep – portrayed by James Garner in a bit part – opens up to new understanding of old woes as the story progresses.
Flanagan is wonderful as the friend who understands Vivi the most. "Fionnula gives the character not only a joyous sense of humor but a formidable fierceness when it’s necessary," says screenwriter Callie Khouri. She had the daunting task of selecting just the right material from Rebecca Wells’ 350-page book.
Smith does a sensational job while garnering most of the laughs. With her oxygen bottle in tow and delivering either a sharp barb or an amusing one-liner, she kept me in stitches.
Knight plays the cautious Ya-Ya, offering advice about what the girls should not do – but jumping on the bandwagon as soon as they do it anyway.
Since the story is told over a 60 year span, all the characters needed two actors to portray them. Ashley Judd makes easy work of playing young Vivi. Through Judd’s portrayal, we see the scope of Vivi’s journey as well as the remarkable baggage this woman carries.
Bullock does a commendable job angsting and is fun to watch, but it’s the older actresses who steal the show in this one.
Ultimately, whether we are close to or estranged from members of our family, it is usually they who make us what we are, and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood reminds us, in a delightful way, to embrace that discovery with understanding and thanks.
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated "PG-13" for mature thematic elements, language and brief sensuality.)