What’s a girl to do when she heads home for the holidays
to the deep South, and I mean deep? We’re talkin’
all the way down to the Gulf Coast. We’re talkin’
boiled crawfish, fried crab fingers, beignets, and Dixie beer.
We’re talking pecan pie, gumbo, fried okra, and oyster
stuffin’ on Christmas day. We’re talkin’
deep, fried mullet and cheese grits deep.
Why rent The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood,
I was busy with work in the city and never got around to
seeing it in the theaters, so here was my big chance to slip
into some jammies, microwave some popcorn, settle down on
the couch with my mother, and enjoy that most maligned of
all genres…the chick flick.
Although we did make it to the end of the film and we did
shed the requisite number of tears, I must admit we both felt
dissatisfied at film’s end, and I, cultural critic that
I am, asked myself why. We wanted to love the movie. It was
written and directed by the Oscar winning writer of Thelma
and Louise, Callie Khouri. The story was adapted from
the best selling novels by Rebecca Wells. I mean, we really
wanted to love a film made by such cool chicks. In fact, I
almost cheered out loud when I saw the “All Girl Productions"
credit during the opening moments. So what was my problem?
Then suddenly I realized something…I wasn’t
too busy with work to see the film in theaters. I was avoiding
the film because I didn’t want to be disappointed by
a woman’s film yet again.
So, of course, I returned to my question. Why were we disappointed
with this film? Why did it fail to be a big box office hit?
While Divine did gross $69 million with a $27 million
dollar budget, certainly it was profitable, it fell far short
of the mark that signifies a hit in Hollywood, $100 million.
Although it has made the top ten list in terms of video rentals,
“users" on the Internet Movie Database website
only grant the film 5.9 out of ten stars. Apparently, we weren’t
the only ones who were disappointed.
Perhaps the main problem I had with the film sprang from
the very fact that I am southern. Putting aside the observation
that the accents were positively atrocious, what southerner
can buy the plotline that a little girl, Sidda (Sandra Bullock),
could grow up in a small Louisiana town and never have heard
the stories or have seen some of the pictures that the Ya-Yas
revealed to her during her kidnapping? She grew up in the
very heartland of the oral tradition, more commonly known
as gossip central; Sidda would have known Vivi’s (Ashley
Judd, Ellen Burstyn) story. At the very least, most of it.
And then there’s the fact that we southern women are
a little tired of being defined as the craziest and most dysfunctional
women in the United States. From Beth Henley to Faulkner,
from Flannery O’Conner to Tennessee Williams, southern
women have been stereotyped as alcoholic whackos throughout
most of twentieth century American literature. Can you imagine
the outrage if any other group were consistently portrayed
in that manner?
But the most annoying part of all is the pat forgiveness
in the closing scene on the porch between mother and daughter
and earlier in the film in the bedroom between husband Shep
(James Garner) and wife. I know the film was trapped within
the confines of the Hollywood arc and the need for resolution
within two hours, and I know the filmmakers were going for
an out when Vivi explains that there are some sins for which
she does not expect to be forgiven, nevertheless both her
husband and her daughter do offer her forgiveness for such
atrocities as moving out of the bedroom, egomaniacal rages,
destruction of property, drug addiction, alcoholism (which
presumable is still an issue), abandonment, child endangerment,
emotional and physical abuse…and this is just the short
The forgiveness from husband and daughter is far too quick
and easy (husband Shep simply tells her he married her for
better or for worse). I remember viewing a rough cut of Runaway
Bride on the Disney lot for Garry Marshall a few years
ago. Maggie’s (Julia Roberts) father (Paul Dooley) is
an alcoholic, and in one scene toward the end of the film
he is in the kitchen holding a mug. He points to the cup and
says, “Coffee." I, along with many other viewers
of this early cut, commented that change (especially for an
alcoholic) is never that cut and dried, that clean. Indeed,
for those who have endured such relationships, a scene like
that is downright insulting and dismissive of the severity
of the problem. The scene was omitted from the final cut of
Rather than feeling sympathy for Vivi, most viewers are
so horrified by her behavior we wonder why the two in question
want to have any relationship with her at all; indeed we wonder
why Vivi has any friends, the Ya-Ya sisterhood, in the first
It may be possible that this problem is one of the central
problems in the genre of the chick flick. The films typically
deal with severe emotional trauma—which many filmgoers
don’t want to deal with in the first place (they go
to the movies to escape trauma and get a little entertainment,
after all). Then the film attempts to resolve these serious
issues in about two hours. Audiences need more time to work
through the problems and journey toward this magical land
of forgiveness. A novel gives them that needed time; a film
does not. Maybe there’s something to the belief that
some stories are better told on screen and some stories are
best reserved for the space of a five hundred (or at the very
least two hundred) page novel.
Hey wait a minute…could this be one of the divine
secrets of the American box office?