JAN’s ROOTING FOR THE YA-YA’s
Let’s cut right to the chase – THE DIVINE SECRETS OF THE YA-YA SISTERHOOD is a “chick flick.” All of its main characters are women, the theme of the film is female friendship, and gals are the core target audience. So the questions for a movie junkie are these: Is this a good “chick flick”? How does it stack up against others in this genre? Is this a film that men should see or simply avoid?
Here are my answers: Yes, this is a very good “chick flick,” one that can hold its head high as a member of this genre, and yes, men should definitely see this film.
In case you haven’t seen it yet, here’s a synopsis of
THE DIVINE SECRETS OF THE YA-YA
Vivi (Ellen Burstyn) & her eldest daughter Sidda (Sandra Bullock) have been at war for years, but the relationship reaches a crisis point when Sidda is interviewed by TIME magazine. Sidda’s new play is the toast of Manhattan, and flush with success, Sidda conveniently forgets that whatever she tells TIME she’s also telling the world. Cut to Vivi reading her copy of TIME and bellowing: “How could she? She was supposed to be ‘the good one’!”
Vivi’s husband (James Garner) cannot calm her down, so he defers to her three bosom buddies
(Fionnula Flanagan, Shirley Knight, & Maggie Smith). These three have kept Vivi’s secrets for decades, but they decide that the time has come to clear the air, so they concoct an “intervention.” They kidnap
Sidda, with the help of her fiancé (Angus MacFadyen), and bring her back home to Louisiana.
They show Sidda a huge scrapbook which contains “The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood,” photographs, letters, and other mementos which track the four friends from adolescence to middle age. The heart of the film is its flashbacks, from the excitement of the Atlanta premiere of
GONE WITH THE WIND, to the romance of World War II, to the stresses and strains of parenthood. The plum in this bowl of cherries is Ashley Judd, luminous & heart-breaking by turns as Vivi in her prime.
Here are some things to think about as you watch this film:
Sidda lives in a world that is very different from her mother’s world. Sidda is a career woman, a successful New York playwright. She lives in a small, classy apartment with a very cute guy, but they’ve been together forever and she’s still afraid to marry him. In a fit of pique, she tells us she’s been “hitting the snooze button on her biological clock” for years.
Vivi’s life is “the road not taken” by Sidda. Vivi had professional dreams and aspirations in her youth, but she decided to stay at home, marry a local boy, and raise a family. For better and for worse, in Vivi’s world that decision means living her life surrounded by women and children. The men, like Sidda’s father, live their lives in a separate sphere, with minimal overlap. But every time Vivi questions her fate, there are men to set her straight: priests to chastise her, doctors to medicate her, shopkeepers to sell her booze.
This is Callie Khouri’s directorial debut. She is best known, of course, for her Oscar-winning screenplay
THELMA & LOUISE. YA-YA has the same combination of laughter and tears. What gives these films their energy is the genuine camaraderie between their women characters. No one dies in YA-YA, but vivacious Vivi does come close. More than anything else, it’s the love and support and emotional “there-ness” of her sisterhood that gets her back on her feet.
Now the critics, in general, have been very hard on THE DIVINE SECRETS OF THE YA-YA
SISTERHOOD, but who are these critics? Well, who reviews films for The New York Times? Answer: Stephen Holden, Elvis Mitchell, and Tony Scott. Who reviews films for The New Yorker? Answer: David Denby and Anthony Lane. How many women are named as members on the New York Film Critics Circle website? Answer: 5 out of 36 (13.9%). When the National Society of Film Critics published their recent book The A List: 100 Essential Films, how many women contributed? Answer: 4 out of 41 (9.8%). Check you own local paper &/or your own favorite national publications, and you’re likely to find the same pattern. With the exception of Claudia Puig at USA Today and Lisa Schwartzbaum at Entertainment Weekly, it’s hard to find a woman’s voice in the old boy’s club of popular film criticism.
Most men never have to choose between building a career and building a family, so maybe this choice doesn’t interest them. But for women this is an on-going dilemma, with much greater resonance than, say, watching a routine chase-a-thon like
THE BOURNE IDENTITY. Nevertheless, Roger Ebert for one, rates
BOURNE a 3 and YA-YA a 1.5. This is just crazy! If nothing else, I think men should ask themselves how well they'd cope with 4 sick kids all puking at the same time. As Marlene Dietrich said to Gary Cooper in
MOROCCO: "Women fight some battles that men will never know." (Or something to that effect...)
So, are the Ya-Ya’s “secrets” huge, unusual, or particularly surprising? No – AND THAT’S THE POINT! This is not a movie about aliens or monsters from the deep. This is a movie about real women. The catharsis comes from understanding how hard Vivi worked to keep her “real self” hidden. What matters here is not the “revelations,” but simple acceptance of her life, with all its highs and lows.
I’m willing to bet that if more publications hired more women film critics, then more films by women (which are often films about women) would get the kind of critical buzz that leads to box office clout.
Meanwhile, for all of you who wanted to see it in a theater but couldn’t find it, I’m counting on YOU to make
THE DIVINE SECRETS OF THE YA-YA SISTERHOOD a success now that it’s finally out on DVD & VHS.
Add THE DIVINE SECRETS OF THE YA-YA SISTERHOOD to the top of the “chick flick” genre along with
HOW TO MAKE AN AMERICAN QUILT,
THE JOY LUCK CLUB, and of course,
THELMA & LOUISE.
As the saying goes: “Women hold up half the sky.” We don’t need ALL the stories, but we do need some!
© Jan Lisa Huttner (11/1/02)
Click here for more information about “The Celluloid
Ceiling” that restricts opportunities for women directors and screenwriters.