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Books that are adapted into films are usually not very successful at the box office, nor successful at being enjoyable. Yes, there are exceptions ( The Lord of the Rings for example), but on the whole the author’s vision is ripped to shreds by an untalented bunch of filmmakers. So with this optimistic view I asked to receive Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, a film that surely is a contender for worst title ever. Will this film back up my theory, or be one of the rare cases when the theory is broken? And how will the DVD perform? Read on…

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

The Film
Playwright Siddalee Walker, on the verge of opening a new play, gives a magazine interview in which she discusses her unhappy childhood. Her mother is furious and cuts her off. Her mother's friends who as children formed a secret society (the Ya-Ya Sisterhood), kidnap Siddalee from her New York apartment. They all travel to her original home in Lousiana where they explain with help from the secret Ya-Ya scrapbook, why her mother treated her so badly.

Well I have to say, the premise above isn’t exactly the recipe for a hi-octane journey of thrills. Instead, it sounds like a rather slow-burning drama, which is fine, as sometimes slow-burning dramas can be accomplished, and engaging, if they possess a strong script and strong performances. Talking of strong performances, it is pleasing to see a strong ensemble of actors involved with Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood: Sandra Bullock, Ellen Burstyn, James Garner, Ashley Judd, and Maggie Smith, to name but five.

So, with this crop of acting talent and a book that must have been fairly good to warrant a film to be made from it, then surely Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood will end up as an enjoyable and interesting piece of cinema.

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

Well unfortunately, that statement is wrong. Because, not only is the film tedious and tiresome, but a genuinely good set of actors have been wasted. Callie Khouri, the writer-director, shot to fame after winning an Oscar for her Thelma & Louise screenplay, but all she displays here is a distinct lack of enthusiasm towards film, and she also doesn’t seem to grasp what an audience wants during the running time.

Perhaps place the blame on Rebecca Wells’ novel (which I haven’t read), but actually, it seems that the whole filmmaking process was not undertaken half as well as it could have been, and therefore a film has been delivered that seems half-edited in the cutting room…scenes of true drama are missing, and all that is left is somewhat of a hollow shell.

Now, after that scathing criticism, are there any good points in the film? Well, a couple. There is the odd moment in a scene where the viewer should enjoy what is happening on-screen, but then only for this feeling to be shattered when another shoddy line comes along or another tiresome plot ‘revelation’. One to be missed.

Video
Being a recent release it is presented in 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen. The visuals are deep and well defined and from the moment the film begins it is clear that this is a modern print and a decent transfer of such quality. Colours are well defined, and luckily there are no artefacts visible such as compression signs or pixellation to spoil the viewing experience. All in all, trademark DVD video, although a certain crispness and clarity is missing to hail this reference quality.

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

Audio
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English & French) is on offer, and it possesses a vibrant and engrossing soundstage, with the surround-sound mix proving to be active and clear, with dialogue replicated well through the front channels and there are a good few uses of the rear channels, too. It may not be a bombastic DTS soundtrack, nor show off the true capabilities of Dolby 5.1, but for a dialogue-driven film, it is very good.

Extras
The extras kick off with an audio commentary with writer-director Callie Khouri and Ashley Judd, which is a bit too much of a backslapping session for my liking. Instead of delving into production insight, the two women decide to embark on a self-praising session. OK, but certainly not the best commentary out there.

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

There is a featurette entitled Unlocking the Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood included, which again is a bit of a backslapping exercise, clocking in at around 20 minutes, and constituting the main players talking about how much they enjoyed making Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Worth a watch, but once is most definitely enough.

For fans of music videos, Alison Krause’s Sitting in the Window of My Room is on offer, and it does what it says on the tin: offering some foot-tapping. Not the best song, but not that bad either.

A bunch of deleted scenes add a bit to the whole film actually, with the narrative gaining a boost from their 15 minute duration. Perhaps at least one or two of these should have been left in the final cut, although it was understandable that some had to go for timing constraints.

To round off the package, a rather bizarre extra is included - entitled Ya-Ya Sisterhood scrapbook, which is a montage of the actors explaining their parts, accessed through said scrapbook. I suppose it is a bit original, but also a bit gimmicky.

The menus are animated fairly nicely too, with music playing in the background and animations rolling around the screen, before the easy-to-navigate options appear.

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
Overall
Well, unfortunately Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood is not much cop at all, due to the common denominator that almost everything in the film is boring to some extent, with no real action or engagement so to speak of. The filmmakers may have been able to hire a bunch of good actors, but even they cannot save Khouri’s poor script or direction from being the main cause of failure. Perhaps with more tweaking, more developed characters and a set-piece or two, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood could have been turned from a below-average film to an above-average one.

DVD wise, it is good: the presentation is strong, with the video and audio performing well throughout; and the extras are fairly good, although too much praise is dished out, especially considering the actual quality of the film.

If there is nothing else that takes your fancy in the rental shop (emphasis on the word ‘rental’), then perhaps give this a whirl, but to me - someone who isn’t really an action junkie and someone who does enjoy the drama genre - this just was unappealing and downright tiresome. When the end credits came, I was thankful.


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