U.S. Release Date: June 7, 2002
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Director: Callie Khouri
Writer: Callie Khouri
Producer: Hunt Lowry, Lisa Stewart (executive)
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Ashley Judd, James Garner
Running Time: 1 hour and 56 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (mature thematic elements, language, and brief sensuality)

Giggles with the Golden Girls
by Scott Holleran

Don't let anyone knock the delightfully warm and funny Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood as a chick flick—a term that sneers at any movie with more than two women and a character that expresses emotion—and don't let the Oprah-esque title fool you: its strong performances are rooted in a universal theme.

The plot is not profound. Ya-Ya, based on Rebecca Wells's pair of popular novels, is really the story of an adult child (Sandra Bullock, who gets better with each role) and her parent (sparkling Ellen Burstyn). The story begins as the mother's childhood friends set out to repair a mother/daughter split by enlightening the daughter with a tutorial in her mother's troubled life.

Daughter is playwright Siddalee, (Bullock), who was raised in Louisiana by her volatile mother (Burstyn) and cotton farmer father (a perfect pitch by James Garner). Siddalee has used her rollercoaster childhood mostly as material for her writing but she winds up with the gnawing sense that she's ending up like her kooky mother. A rift with mom reveals her own doubts about her boyfriend (Scottish actor Angus MacFadyen, Braveheart).

The elderly Ya-Ya sisters (Maggie Smith, Shirley Knight and Finnoula Flanagan) intervene by bringing Sidda back down to Bayou country, where they dust off the Ya-Ya scrapbook to help Sidda solve the mystery of her mother's volcanic personality. Through extended flashbacks—in which Sidda's mother Vivi is beautifully portrayed by Ashley Judd—the roots of Burstyn's eccentricities emerge.

Along the way, there's a religious and abusive mother, lost love, passion for a career, a settle-for-less marriage, a house full of screaming children and, always, tenderness lurking beneath the madness. Judd brings an intensity to the role of young Vivi and her transformation from carefree career girl to a dark, defining moment in front of a mirror is undoubtedly the story of many older women. Peering into the mirror, Vivi must face the truth about herself and either cut and run from the mayhem she's entered or straighten up.

The present-day Ya-Ya sisters keep things lively and fun, with Smith and Flanagan shining in many hilarious moments. Knight (Helen Hunt's mother in As Good As it Gets) doesn't have much to work with and gets lost in the storm of better performances in better roles, and the bonds of friendship are suggested more than shown. But when the fur flies—the funniest scene involves a very unfeminine cat fight by car chase—it's all laugh out loud.

Making her directorial debut, Callie Khouri (screenwriter of Thelma and Louise) wisely steers clear of feminist politics by adhering to Mark Andrus' adaptation (Andrus wrote As Good As it Gets and the underrated Late for Dinner) and, instead, Khouri lets her stars shine. Yes, watching these old broads cackle and wink and feather their nests is as deep as an episode of The Golden Girls, and Ya-Ya sometimes plays like it's crammed with too much material from the novels. But, by the time parent and child both get what they have coming, Ya-Ya's funny lines and facial expressions and heartfelt moments make you want to call your mother—or her longtime friends.

The Lake House
Love Letters Arrive Slowly in Moody Romance
In Her Shoes
Subtle Touches Make for a Poignant Sister Act
The Ephrons' Remake Belittles Original Series