The Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood
*1/2 (out of four)
By Daniel Kraus

Have you ever known one of those people who lived under the proud assumption that they were "crazy"? Every office or group of friends has onthis 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," she’ll say. "I’m so CRAZY."

Of course, she isn’t crazy. She’s just annoying. Announcing you’re crazy is like announcing that you’re coolif you were, you wouldn’t announce it. This is the central problem lying within the veritable vortex of problems that is The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. It’s 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. It’s all so crazy it makes you want to puke.

You know a story is trying too hard when you’re 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 O’Hara clone Vivi (Ellen Burstyn, who claws her way out of this monster with dignity intact). To repair the mother/daughter rift, Vivi’s group of friendstheir childhood club was called "The Ya-Ya’s"kidnap Siddilee, take Siddalee down South, and tell her the REAL story of Vivi’s childhood, so that she might understand her mother better.

Supposedly, this all takes place in Louisiana, but it obviously doesn’tit takes place in a make-believe Southern nirvana where everyone’s chicken-fried accents are so thick you can barely make out the insulting country cliches and absolutely CRAZY down-home witticisms. There’s 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, it’s all so CRAZY.

Of course, the movie isn’t just sidesplitting hilarity; no, it’s meaningful and stuff, too. Unfortunately, the filmmakers didn’t really have time to be, you know, original. Instead, they’ve whipped up a platter of twice-baked scenarios from the ol’ "Childhood Trauma" recipe book. Every few minutes there’s a flashback, introduced with all the clumsiness of a flashback episode of Growing Pains: "Hey, remember that one time Mike set Carol’s hair on fire…"

And just like that we’re back in the soft-focus sepia world of Vivi’s 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 can’t help but applaud them and this is precisely the problemit’s a low blow because it encourages our brains to switch to autopilot. We’re 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 she’s 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 it’s unfortunate she is embarrassing herself out there.

Divine Secrets is based on Rebecca Well’s 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 somebody’s 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 can’t 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 dayya’ll can keep your Ya-Ya's.

Daniel Kraus is a nationally syndicated columnist and filmmaker. Info on his latest film, Ball of Wax, can be found at