Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002)
Main cast: Sandra Bullock (Sidda), Ellen Burstyn (Vivi), Fionnula Flanagan (Teensy), James Garner (Shep Walker), Cherry Jones (Buggy), Ashley Judd (Younger Vivi), Shirley Knight (Necie), Angus MacFadyen (Connor), Maggie Smith (Caro)
Director: Callie Khouri

Like readers, movie-goers are inherently sexist. How else can I explain how movie adaptations of Nick Hornby books featuring infantile men objectifying women get praised while movies featuring more than two over-40 women instantly get panned and carded as a "chick flick"? Apparently it is okay for lil' boys to screw and dump women, but heaven forbid a movie where women take a dump on men.

I have sat through movies like How To Make An American Quilt (rubbish), Hope Floats (good), Practical Magic (mediocre but has its moments), Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her (glorious, just glorious). The drek outweighs the gems, however, and if I sit through one more movie like Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood, I'd happily overdose on Midol.

This is a Southern belle movie, filled with clichés about eccentric Southern wimmin' (alcoholic "cute", bad-tempered "precious", shrill "adorable", obnoxiously rude "free spirited", abusive "feitsy"). The tragedy here is that this is a movie that brings together Maggie Smith in her rare comedy role and the divine Fionnula Flanagan, while Sandra Bullock can always shine despite being stuck in middling scripts. What went wrong?

The script, for one. I haven't read the two books by Rebecca Wells that are amalgamated into this movie, and I don't intend to, but from what I get from this movie, it is okay for Southern women to behave badly because they are, well, Southern women. Sidda, our heroine, gets kidnapped by the Ya-Ya Sisterhood of which her mother Vivi is one of four crazy broads, because she tells the Times that Vivi was an abusive and lousy mother. From hereon, the movie zigzags between kiddie Vivi's life ("I wanna be a star!"), a bit older Vivi's life (germaphobe Ashley Judd putting on a Carol Crady gone trailer park act of a poor long-suffering Marilyn Monroe trapped in the body of a - gasp - housewife), and the present day, where the four Ya-Ya broads try to make Sidda see that Vivi is not a bad mother, she's just eccentric.

By eccentric, I guess it means that it's okay to belt your kids because you never became the star you knew you ought to be. It is okay to act like social nuisance because you are an old lady.

Vivi is a complicated woman, and so should Sidda be. But any real conflict between mother and daughter is swept under the carpet that match the wallpaper, any grudges miraculously healed by wearing ugly flowery robes and uglier tiaras and feathers and chanting mumbo-jumbo in candlelight. And that's the ultimate tragedy, as Maggie Smith really lets it rip in her role. She can be really funny, who would've thought of that?

Perhaps the most telling lesson from this movie is how Callie Khouri wrote the "infamous" Thelma And Louise (oh, women taking revenge on nasty men - shocking!) but saw her career stalled even as lesser (male) counterparts move on to glorious heights. She has stated in interviews that she has rejected working on this movie several times, until she has no choice but to take it if she wants work. I don't want to trash this movie, because by doing so, I am contributing even if marginally towards the vicious cycle that prevents women from succeeding in Hollywood. But this movie is so halfbaked and halfheartedly made, I feel sorry for the cast who act their hearts out. In this case, the players want to win, but the powers-to-be just can't be bothered.

That's what I call a true Hollywood-style tragedy.

Rating: 60

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