Making the Grades
Vivi Walker (Ellen Burstyn) is the kind of woman who fills up a room when she enters, demands instant attention, and quite frankly is a hard person to have as a mother. Imprisoned by the demons of her own upbringing, she struggles to raise her children while being plagued by erratic mood swings. After a misinterpreted magazine article sends her into a tit-for-tat tizzy, her daughter Siddalee (Sandra Bullock) refuses to invite the eccentric lady to her upcoming wedding. That's when Vivi's long time friends step in to help.
Sworn members of the secret Ya-Ya Sisterhood since a pre-teen initiation, Caro (Maggie Smith), Teensy (Fionnula Flanagan) and Necie (Shirley Knight) have stood by Vivi through thick and thin. Now, they decide it's time to unravel Vivi's petulant past for her playwright daughter in hopes of repairing the wounded mother/child relationship. Resorting to rather unethical and highly illegal means, they stash the reluctant bride-to-be in a Southern shanty with a copy of the Divine Secrets of their society.
With the journal's aid, Siddalee relives her own childhood memories and begins to understand the charismatic woman who seemingly failed at marriage and parenting. She also realizes the effect the past has on her own approaching nuptials with Connor (Angus Mac Fadyen).
A predominantly female cast, woman director and company name of All Girl Productions lead the credits in this film celebrating the enduring, sometimes funny, and often painful relationship of four life long friends. Using a bevy of experienced actors (including James Garner as Siddalee's father) and relative newcomers, it also depicts the frustrations of a family afflicted by alcohol, ambition and inadequate role models.
Unfortunately these Southern belles drop profanities faster than hot cornbread and make liquor an indispensable staple of adult life. It's also likely their offbeat approach to therapy (i.e. compulsory confinement), while well meaning, will do little more than begin a long process of healing between Siddalee and her mom.
Yet The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood does reminds us that although we can't change the past, we can keep it from crippling the future by the choices we make today.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.
Why did Connor encourage Siddalee to stay in the South and deal with her past? How was her past affecting him? How did he help in rebuilding the mother/daughter relationship?
Although her childhood was traumatic, Vivi admits that some of the long-term damage she has experienced is self-inflicted. What did she mean by that comment? At what point do children have to take responsibility for their own lives and stop blaming their parents? What part does forgiveness play in becoming a healthy adult?
Mothers can come in many forms. Who were some of the mother figures in this film? How did those roles sometimes reverse? What individuals have mothered you in your life?