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Sidda Lee Walker (Sandra Bullock) is a successful playwright living in New York, far from her dramatic, eccentric mother Vivi (Ellen Burstyn), who lives in Louisiana with her father Shep (James Garner). When a Time Magazine profile is published on Sidda, Vivi is outraged at the implications that she was not a good mother, and the subsequent fight threatens to destroy not only their unstable relationship, but Sidda’s seven year relationship with Connor (Angus MacFadyen). Vivi’s childhood friends, the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (Fionnula Flanagan, Shirley Knight, Maggie Smith) formed before their teens, are keen to restore peace and believe that confronting the past is the answer. 

Review by Louise Keller:
The title may be long, but once seen, it’s hard to forget Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.
Revisiting this sometimes funny, and powerful emotional drama on DVD, that deals with friendships and that special mother/daughter relationship, I found myself enjoying it even more the second time around. Whether or not it deserves to be rated as a chick flick is a matter of opinion, but first time director Callie Khouri (who wrote Thelma and Louise) has certainly tapped into many perceptions that ring true. 

Two fascinating and highly entertaining audio commentaries give great insight; I especially enjoyed the informal and fluent fly-on-the-wall chat between Khouri and Ashley Judd. Judd says that her husband’s favourite moments in the film (and many men may agree) are those when James Garner’s ‘quiet rock’ of a husband shows his ‘cool’ when his neurotic, emotional wife (wonderfully played by Ellen Burstyn) loses hers. The luck involved in Garner’s availability at short notice for the role is one of the topics canvassed in the other commentary between the filmmakers, producer, editor and composer, who also talk about the casting and coming together of this extraordinary cast. 

It’s credit to Khouri and the cast that despite a complex structure covering three different time periods, the result is so enjoyable and we get deeply involved in the characters. Set in Louisiana, where Southern drawls are at home with the likes of Margaret Mitchell’s Scarlett O’Hara, during the first half hour, I laughed so much I cried; in the last half hour, the tears were real. Quaint rituals by impressionable young girls and recollections of their secret fantasies develop into squabbles over Bloody Marys, nostalgic memories and emotional seesaws involving friends, lovers, siblings and parents. 

There’s a predictable, but well executed behind-the-scenes featurette that includes interviews with the stars who talk about their roles and characters. “Life is infinitely richer with female friendship,” says Ashley Judd, while Sandra Bullock reflects on how “Friendships have a different kind of glue that make you try a little harder.”

The cast? Well this is a film that’s worth watching just for the cast and the performances. Sandra Bullock is superb as Sidda, the successful playwright, whose published interview about her upbringing ‘If I had an easy childhood I would have absolutely nothing to write about’ deepens the already shaky ground in her relationship with her mother Vivi. Bullock conveys her most inner thoughts and feelings by simple facial expressions and is a delight to watch. Her stormy relationship with her mother (Burstyn is extraordinary in a showy role) goes up and down like a lift out of control, and concludes in a scene with maximum emotional impact due to Bullock’s sublime understated response. 

All the Ya-Yas are wonderful – especially Maggie Smith’s oxygen puffing Caro and Fionnula Flanagan’s Teensy who drives a Rolls Royce like a racing car. Both James Garner and Angus MacFadyen deliver plenty of oomph in the male character roles: it is Garner’s Shep that convinced me this film was written by a woman – only a woman could know the wisdom of a man who ignores a woman’s flaws. Ashley Judd is mesmerising as the young Vivi, displaying all the complexities of a flawed young mother when life gets the better of her. Splendid settings, production design and terrific editing give the film a sense of place, while the soundtrack never lets up with a string of timeless tunes with poignant lyrics and a compelling original score. 

Published March 6, 2003

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CAST: Sandra Bullock, Ashley Judd, Ellen Burstyn, Maggie Smith, James Garner, Shirley Knight

DIRECTOR: Callie Khouri

RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes

PRESENTATION: Dolby Digital 5.1 audio and 16 X 9 widescreen format

SPECIAL FEATURES: Additional scenes, two commentaries (one with Callie Khouri & Ashley Judd; the other with Khouri, producers Bonnie Bruckheimer, Hunt Lowry, exec producer Lisa Stewart, Editor Andrew Marcus and composer T-Bone Burnett; Unlocking the Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood chronicles the page to screen journey; Internactive scrapbook; Alison Krauss music video; trailer; cast/director film highlights

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video

DVD RELEASE: February 26, 2003

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