Sidda Lee Walker is a successful New York playwright whose relationship with her mother, Vivi, is fine, thank you, as long as Vivi stays at home and doesn’t try to rule anything beyond her rural Louisiana domain. But when Sidda tells a Time magazine reporter that dear ol’ mum is "the most charming wounded person you’ve ever met" and that she made her childhood very difficult, their tense truce ends abruptly. After a couple of weeks of screaming at each other over the phone and purging each other from wills and wedding invitations, the Walker women’s long distance war is mercifully interrupted by Vivi’s lifelong friends, the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.
Better than anyone, Necie, Caro and Teensy understand Vivi’s melodrama and eccentricity. They also know her painful past and see through it to her deeply-buried tender heart. And they love Sidda like she was one of their own daughters. So they’ll do whatever it takes to force mother and daughter to face each other—and their mutually painful past. What it takes turns out to be kidnapping Sidda and bringing her back to her Louisiana roots, where she is introduced to "The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood," a collaborative diary that holds the key to her mother’s past. As Sidda sorts through her own fear, her mother’s alcoholism and lots of inherited baggage, both women learn about love, forgiveness and the power of friendship.
positive content: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood gleefully celebrates the friendships of women. These crazy, colorful friends have a blast together, as well they should after sharing over a half-century of memories. And through the tenacity of the Sisters, Vivi is both supported and challenged. They won’t let her off the hook until she faces up to her own past. More than once they tell her what she needs to hear, even though it’s not what she wants to hear. The importance of working through hard situations instead of sweeping them under the rug is emphasized.
There aren’t many men in this movie, but those who do appear are good examples of consistency and strength. Shep Walker (Vivi’s husband) says he knew when he married her that "for better or for worse would be a coin toss." He’s made his share of mistakes, yet he has stuck with her for decades. He also puts his daughter’s needs above his own, even though his own life hasn’t been easy. He tells Sidda, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions. . . . [The road back] is paved with humility." Sidda’s fiancé, Connor, is also a pillar of stability in her life. He encourages her to work through her problems with her mother so that she won’t carry them on into her relationship with her own future children.
The danger of letting a "bitter root" grow in one’s life (Heb. 12:14-15) is explored thoroughly. The Ya-Yas tell Sidda, "You have a long life ahead of you, and you don’t need to spend any more of it tangled up in anger and resentment." The destructive power of generational sin is also highlighted (though it is never called sin). The "junk" Sidda has inherited from Vivi obviously originated with her mother, Buggy. Still, the clear message is that, even though we are affected by the mistakes of others, it is ultimately up to each of us to choose what’s right. Best of all, the biggest Divine Secret in this film turns out to be forgiveness. By the end, mother and daughter both verbally express their love for each other and the ice in Vivi and Shep’s marriage begins to melt.
spiritual content: The Ya-Yas’ sisterhood ceremony, held once when the girls are very young and once when they’re adults, looks like a pagan or tribal ritual, complete with a blood pact. The ceremony is comically overplayed and obviously drawn half from adventure stories and half from the girls’ own imaginations.
In a flashback, we see Vivi’s own mother being berated by her husband for being a "pathetic Catholic idiot." She also uses her religion to put Vivi on a guilt trip and drive a wedge between her and her father. Nonetheless, Vivi adopts her mother’s faith and is shown more than once going to confession and praying to Mary. In one scene her prayers look more like New Age goddess worship than traditional Catholicism.
sexual content: Sidda and Connor live together before marriage. Young Vivi and her friends ride topless (at night) in a convertible and are caught by the local sheriff (they’re shown from the back). A few women’s outfits show cleavage, and a few scenes show women wearing panties (albeit very modest ones). Sidda is shown from the front wearing a thong, prompting one Ya-Ya to blurt, "I don’t understand having those underwear up your a-- crack." Vivi’s mother, jealous of her daughter’s relationship with her father, makes a vague accusation about incest, calling it a "mortal sin." There’s one throwaway line about homosexuality.
violent content: During their Sisterhood ceremony, the Ya-Yas use a knife to make tiny cuts in their palms; then they press their hands together to mix their blood. As the leader of the ritual, young Vivi passes around a cup that she says is filled with "the blood of our people." She then whispers to the other girls, "Don’t worry. It’s just chocolate." After reading the Time article, Vivi throws a coffee mug which narrowly misses Shep before it shatters against a doorframe. Plates are also thrown in a flashback scene, hitting an obnoxious boy, but causing no injury. Sidda playfully points a table knife at Connor, and it is mentioned that Teensy’s mother committed suicide. In a rage, Young Vivi screams at her husband, throws a frying pan on the counter and beats her children with a belt (it’s obvious that she’s not mentally stable).
crude or profane language: For being Southern "ladies," the Ya-Yas swear an awful lot. There’s one f-word, about a dozen s-words, over two-dozen mild profanities and even more misuses of God’s or Jesus’ names.
drug and alcohol content: From the time they are teenagers, the Ya-Yas drink Vodka like water (though, by the time the present day scenes occur, Teensy has sworn off the bottle). The high level of alcohol consumption is especially disturbing because Vivi, a recovering alcoholic continues to drink. This sends the false message that it’s possible for an alcoholic to drink in moderation after "recovering." The older women try to carry out their kidnapping plan by getting Sidda so drunk that she won’t know they’re putting her on a plane. When Sidda won’t comply, they slip her a "roofie" (also known as the "date-rape drug") to knock her out so they can fly her to Louisiana. Most of the women also smoke, and Caro is on oxygen, presumably because of lung damage caused by the lifelong habit.
other negative elements: In a flashback, a snobby white boy makes ugly, condescending remarks toward a black servant (including the n-word). It’s clear that the Ya-Yas despise him for it (they throw full plates of food at him), yet just the inclusion of such a scene may disturb some viewers.
conclusion: From the creators of Steel Magnolias, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood paints a colorful picture of the lives and friendships of women. My prediction is that most women will love the way it plays out on screen, and find themselves laughing aloud at scenes very familiar to them from their own lives. On the other hand, men in the audience—like the men in the movie—may prefer to appreciate these friendships from a distance, rather than experience them up close and personal. Ya-Ya Sisterhood has lots of good things to say about families, fear and forgiveness, and may even challenge viewers to work though issues in their own families to avoid passing pain on to future generations. Unfortunately, in portraying the gutsy feminine heroes, filmmakers include some traits that are not so admirable, including smoking, drinking and cussing. And that means that when all the points are tallied, the Ya-Yas aren’t good role models for young women.