Have you ever known
one of those people who lived under the proud assumption
that they were "crazy"? Every office or group of friends
person probably likes to tell you in a loud voice about
how she wore some outrageous piece of clothing or did
something hilariously spontaneous in public. "You know
me," shell say. "Im so CRAZY."
Of course, she isnt
crazy. Shes just annoying. Announcing youre
crazy is like announcing that youre coolif
you were, you wouldnt announce it. This is the central
problem lying within the veritable vortex of problems
that is The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.
Its about a tight-knit group of Southern women who
are all so gosh-darn CRAZY and all the absolutely CRAZY
things they do in their absolutely CRAZY life. Its
all so crazy it makes you want to puke.
You know a story is trying
too hard when youre force-fed a bunch of names like
Siddalee, Teensy, Chick, and Buggy. Siddalee (Sandra Bullock)
is a successful New York playwright and the estranged
daughter of melodramatic Scarlett OHara clone Vivi
(Ellen Burstyn, who claws her way out of this monster
with dignity intact). To repair the mother/daughter rift,
Vivis group of friendstheir
childhood club was called "The Ya-Yas"kidnap
Siddilee, take Siddalee down South, and tell her the REAL
story of Vivis childhood, so that she might understand
her mother better.
Supposedly, this all takes
place in Louisiana, but it obviously doesntit
takes place in a make-believe Southern nirvana where everyones
chicken-fried accents are so thick you can barely make
out the insulting country cliches and absolutely CRAZY
down-home witticisms. Theres a pattern here: one
of the Ya-Ya's makes a comment; a second Ya-Ya cracks
a bawdy joke about sex or alcohol; a third Ya-Ya shoots
the other Ya-Ya's the bird. Then everyone laughs because,
you see, its all so CRAZY.
Of course, the movie isnt
just sidesplitting hilarity; no, its meaningful
and stuff, too. Unfortunately, the filmmakers didnt
really have time to be, you know, original. Instead, theyve
whipped up a platter of twice-baked scenarios from the
ol "Childhood Trauma" recipe book. Every few minutes
theres a flashback, introduced with all the clumsiness
of a flashback episode of Growing Pains: "Hey,
remember that one time Mike set Carols hair on fire
And just like that were
back in the soft-focus sepia world of Vivis younger
self (played by Ashley Judd, who has an obvious jones
for Oprah Book Club-type movies). We are treated to a
random game of "trauma roulette": death, incest, child
beating, whatever. The movie never earns a single emotion
that it strangles from our whimpering bodies. When Vivi
and her pals humiliate a cruel bigot, we cant help
but applaud them and this is precisely the problemits
a low blow because it encourages our brains to switch
to autopilot. Were instructed to cry here, and cheer
here, and never are we are given a choice whatsoever.
Stranded in the center
of all this noise is Sandra Bullock, who flounders in
the half-hearted, stilted way of a high school theater
actor. Did you see her as the cop in Murder by Numbers?
Or the witch in Practical Magic? Her delivery consistently
sounds like shes reading off of cue cards. Maybe
one of the reason people like Bullock is that we feel
bad for hershe
seems like a nice person and its unfortunate she
is embarrassing herself out there.
Divine Secrets is
based on Rebecca Wells popular novel, which one
can only assume was much better. Forced to cram several
decades of cliches into two hours, the movie version just
pops open like over-packed luggage. But unlike looking
at somebodys dirty laundry, we learn nothing from
the mess, except what we already knew: stereotypes are
boring; girl-pal-power movies are usually offensive; and
Sandra Bullock still cant act.
Then again, if you enjoy
older women who drink hard, swear hard, and talk about
how crazy they are, you might like this movie. If you
enjoy watching Golden Girl marathons, you might
like this movie. Actually, noThe
Golden Girls had more sincerity in one contrived 22-minute
episode than exists in this entire movie. Give me Blanche,
Rose, Dorothy, and Sofia any dayyall
can keep your Ya-Ya's.
Kraus is a nationally syndicated columnist and filmmaker.
Info on his latest film, Ball of Wax, can be found at