Middle-aged women in the American South are off-kilter, boozy, faded beauties surrounded by a coven of bosom buddies with ridiculous names, big hair and a fondness for chiffon. The movies tell us so, y'all.
And Divine Secrets... is no different. Siddalee (Sandra Bullock, not even bothering with the accent) is a successful playwright who complains of her traumatic childhood during a newspaper interview. Her Dixie diva mother Viva (Ellen Burstyn) disowns her immediately, prompting Viva's friends, Necie (Shirley Knight) Caro (Maggie Smith) and Teensy (Fionnula Flanagan) - - the so-called Ya-Yas - - to kidnap Siddalee. It's not money they're after but an opportunity to tell her what a wondrous youth they shared with her ma, proving the old girl's not such a silly cow after all.
A quick scan of the credits tells us this should be a quality tearjerker. Not only is it directed by Callie Khouri, no stranger to Sister flicks having scribbled Thelma & Louise, but she has a superb cast and great source material (Rebecca Wells' novel of the same name) to call on. Yet this is a sprawling, curiously empty affair. Even the revelation of the Ya-Ya's deepest secret lacks dramatic punch.
The one glimmer of magic is Ashley Judd, playing Viva as a young woman in the annoyingly brief flashbacks. Soaring beyond the horror of a couple of misjudged wigs, she emerges incandescent, providing the genuine tissue-dabbing emotion missing from the rest of proceedings.
Resolutely bird-oriented and lacking scope or rounded male characters, Divine Secrets... reinforces the time-honoured theory of book adaptations - - the source material is invariably better.