The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (12A)

Review by Jack Foley

CHICK flick queens, Sandra Bullock and Ashley Judd, team up with an established ensemble of golden oldies (including Ellen Burstyn and Maggie Smith) for this overly sentimental melodrama concentrating on the differences between mothers and daughters.

Intended as a tear-jerker designed to stir the emotions and bring about a sense of the all-girl bonding displayed so openly on-screen, The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood instead comes across as a cliché-ridden retread of countless other movies, while trivialising some fairly weighty issues in favour of hugs and cuddles.

Bullock stars as a successful playwright who invokes the wrath of her eccentric mother (Burstyn) when she reveals all about her bad childhood in a magazine interview. The family ‘breakdown’ prompts Burstyn’s lifelong friends, founder members of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, to abduct the hapless Bullock, take her back down South and explain to her why Burstyn has become the oddball wreck she is today.

The story of how mother and daughter fell out is then conveyed in flashback, as Burstyn becomes reincarnated as Judd, a feisty Southern belle, who slowly reverts to alcoholism out of love for the one man she can never have.

Cue the handkerchiefs and sighs of sympathy, as Judd’s heartfelt tale unfolds. Yet as ruthlessly as the movie pulls on the heart-strings, one can’t help but feel that Judd’s cross is one of her own making and her plight remains unsympathetic throughout, particularly as the rift deepens when Judd’s drunken mother resorts to violence to ‘punish’ her daughter.

That everyone is so eager, by the end of the movie, to forgive her (including her neglected husband, played by James Garner), simply doesn’t ring true, while the gushing finale is both mawkish and nausea-inducing.

To be fair to director, Callie Khouri, she does coax some decent performances from her talented leads, but too much time is given over to Judd’s descent into personal hell that everyone else plays second fiddle.

The Ya-Ya Sisterhood, for instance, get to reveal very few of their secrets and are far from divine throughout, while Garner is largely wasted as the kindly husband and father whose own feelings go ignored.

The movie is fairly crisp and there is the occasional laugh to be had - usually from Smith’s deadpan wit - but, overall, this is a clumsy, uneven affair which, by the time the final credits roll, grates.