Don’t be fooled by the fireside polemic that opens Callie Khouri’s The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. “Let no man put asunder,” says little Vivi to her blood sisters, honoring the queens that came and went before them while drinking chocolate-as-blood from color-coded goblets. Khouri’s adaptation of Rebecca Wells’s Ya-Ya is nowhere near as emasculatory as her screenplay for Ridley Scott’s Thelma & Louise yet it’s also nowhere near as empowering. Those looking for severed dicks and the weepy pyrotechnics of Steel Magnolias should look elsewhere. Ya Ya is all not-so-divine secrets and no sisterhood. Past the hee-hee playfulness (see cancer victims jog with their oxygen tanks, watch as three old bittys demystify the roofie) lies a mediocre parent-child emotional fix-em-up. Khouri vastly undervalues the significance of the titular sisterhood; in effect, Vivi’s friends function less as sisters-for-life as they do storyteller planets hee-hawing their way around a clueless mother-daughter team played by Ellen Burstyn and Sandra Bullock. Skeletons rattle a la V.C. Andrews, revealing a legacy of dead first-boyfriends, unexplained feces, projectile vomit and a spare-the-rod-spoil-the-child moment that has Vivi (Ashley Judd, doing a fine impersonation of a younger Burstyn) wink-wink whipping her three children in front of her two black servants. Khouri has no real patience for the history and origins of the Ya-Ya sisterhood, successfully simplifying race and reducing female solidarity to an oh-so-cute exchange of tragic hugs and witty confrontations. Functional yet tediously mediocre, Ya Ya even has one of its characters spell out its obvious mantra: think about the good times.
There's nothing remotely remarkable or inherently wrong with this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of Warner's Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood-it's a bit fuzzy and while there is some noticeable edge enhancement, skin tones look fine and color saturation is certainly acceptable. The problem here is the source material. Save for a few ravishing dusk sequences, John Bailey's cinematography is liable to put anyone to sleep. Much more impressive is the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. The track is both warm and lively, thanks in part to the film's remarkable Cajun-fried soundtrack.
There are two commentary tracks included on this DVD edition of The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. The first features director Callie Khouri, executive producer Lisa Stewart, producers Bonnie Bruckheimer and Hunt Lowry, editor Andrew Marcus and composer T. Bone Burnett. There may be one too many voices on this track though Khouri and Stewart's casting discussions are certainly interesting. More successful is the commentary track by Khouri and Ashley Judd, whose respect for her actresses (especially the young actress who played her as a child) is quite humbling. "Unlocking the Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" is a disposable making-of featurette that's been put together like an extended trailer. Also included here is a nicely designed scrapbook section, several deleted scenes, a theatrical trailer, cast and crew film highlights and Alison Krauss's "Sitting In The Window Of My Room" music video.
Here's an early Christmas present for that special drama queen in your life. This one is definitely for the faint of heart.