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Ya-Ya Sisterhood

 

Gen X Review of Ya-Ya sisters

Some movies are so dreadful that they bear down on you like a freight train, steel wheels crushing your soul until you are a whimpering mass of submission.

 

Films like Joe Dirt are so awful that they force you to imagine a peaceful world without human life polluting the atmosphere -- a world of serene calm and kindness, Disneyland birds chirping happily as they glide to muzak Mozart. Movies of this type are brutally bad, “bug in your ice cream” bad, bad of an intensity that almost defies rationality, but at least they’re honest. They don’t pass themselves off as anything more than the steaming pile of worm dung that they are.


But there are other kinds of bad films, friends, equally insidious, every bit as nasty and -- somehow -- even more rotten at their core. These films lull you into believing they’re not going to suck. Ah, you say, a little Fried Green Tomatoes meets On Golden pond, well sure, sounds good. Don’t be deceived, neighbors! These movies are pure poison, like the trick that not only sucks your blood but leaves its head under your skin, where it continues to act with cruel intelligence.


Their badness spreads like scabies. Every time you scratch, you spread the disease, planting embryonic seeds all over your body until you are a virtual garden of ugly, crusty sores. These films are so subtly bad that you feel all order drain from the world as you try to understand why you’re suddenly so grouchy and angry at the world.


Enter Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, queen of skunks, gardener of nightcrawlers, venereal diseases and stale, petty melodrama.


Ya-Ya begins fine. A group of young girls crawl from a bedroom window and sneak into the nearby woods, where they light a fire and perform a kind of ritual. They swear an oath to one another, share a potion and dance under the open sky like true pagans. Although indistinguishable from one another, the girls are immensely likable and the mood is lush and mysterious.


The ritual is common childhood magic, evoking Indians, the Virgin Mary and the ancient spirits of the stones interchangeably, but these kids are fascinating with their faces lit up by the fire and the power of their own imaginations.


But this is merely a happy hallucination, the first in an endless stream of flashbacks, and the film never again touches this sacred ground of childhood, mystery or wonder.


Back in the present day, the Ya-Ya kicks into high realist mode by introducing Sidda (Sandra Bullock), a dark playwright. Sidda tells a columnist for Time that her mother was very difficult when she was growing up and that she is actually grateful for her bad childhood, since it gives her material to write about.


When the article is published Sidda’s mother, Vivi -- the eldest girl from the opening ceremony -- is understandably livid. All four girls have aged into full Southern belles, hard-drinking, hard smoking, full-figured clichés, and they commiserate with Vivi over her daughter’s remarks while tossing back Bloody Marys in her kitchenette. They convince Vivi to give Sidda a chance to explain herself.


After an explosive phone call, these golden girls decide to head to New York to kidnap Sidda and force her to listen to all their old Ya-Ya stories. It’s like a Clockwork Orange version of the worst family get together you can imagine and the incessant flashbacks certainly do not deconfuse the plot any. I believe 12 people play the Ya-Yas at different points of their lives and it’s difficult to follow who is who, though I defy anyone to care.


The pace is disjointed and the acting uneven. The film showcases some of Bullock’s very worst acting to date and there just isn’t much material for the elder Ya-Yas -- Ellen Burstyn, Fionnula Flanagan, Shirley Knight and Maggie Smith -- to work with, though they generally blow it when they get the chance. For a film supposedly about deep and tender bonds, this movie does everything it can to keep all emotions at the level of make-up, hair do and wardrobe.


The self importance of the characters seems totally unjustifiable given the fact that they’ve become just four charmless, alcoholic, crones. Dipping into flashback after flashback like a deep-sea diver in search of pearls reveals nothing more substantial than the usual laundry list of complaints: Lost love, abuse, tragic deaths, you know, what most of us call life. The tiresome, unpleasant details about these ordinary megalomaniacs is simply depressing and the film’s yo-yo use of flashback devices is a textbook example of how to make bad films even worse.


By the tenth hour of this unusually long and dreadfully obsessive film I was ready to scratch my eyes out, whispering, “Please, no more... flashbacks... I’ll tell you everything I know...” to myself softly.
T


-th-there must be reason, you say to yourself, it can’t all... be about... pill-popping... what about Vivi’s three missing children...? and-and-and how is it possible for Bullock to have been a teenager in the early 1960s...? w-where did Vivi get all t-that mmm-oney? why --


Hey, you say to yourself, what’s that rash forming on my arm...?


And that is the final secret of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.

 
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About a Boy

Gen X Review About a Boy

 

Sometimes you don’t know how empty life is until someone comes along and fills it.

 

The new film About a Boy is actually about how people find meaning in their lives and the intimate connections that bind us together. This fairly sarcastic film about narcissistic, selfish, obsessive people has a surprising amount of emotional depth, tenderness and humor.

Thirty-eight-year-old bachelor Will (Hugh Grant) considers himself an island. He’s the kind of seducer Oscar Wilde would applaud -- A cad who is sophisticated in an utterly superficial sort of way. He lives an uncomplicated life devoted to low-level hedonism such as buying CDs, playing pool and wooing middle-aged women into his bed.

Will doesn’t expect much of himself and doesn’t have any real committed relationships. “I don’t actually do anything,” he says, with equal parts self-deprecating humor and absurd pride. His days are occupied listening to music and playing along to television game shows, but he’s not lonely because he doesn’t expect or desire companionship.


Will stumbles onto a gold mine when he is fixed up with a single mom. Riddled with guilt over not trying to reconcile her relationship with her child’s biological father, the mom breaks up with Will just as the slacker is planning on ending things himself, thus sparing him the inconvenience of appearing like an insensitive clod. The relationship convinces Will that he should date singles moms and he joins S.P.A.T. (Single Parents, Alone Together) in pursuit of more divorcees.


He dreams of becoming “cool uncle Will, king of the kids” and engaging in intense, short-term relationships.


Pretending to have an infant son of his own, Will attaches himself to the group and eventually meets Suzie (Victoria Smurfit). On one of his dates with Suzie and her daughter, Will is introduced to Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), a strange 12-year-old boy. Suzie is watching the boy for her best friend Fiona (Toni Collette) and when they drop Marcus off at his house they’re thrust into a very personal, emotional scene.


Human life is messy sometimes, and Will is happy to leave the unhappy little family, but Marcus trails him, showing up at Will’s apartment after school. Will finds himself entangled in Marcus’ life, which isn’t quite what the bachelor expected when he signed up for the support group. To make matters even worse, Marcus is a weird boy with pointy eyebrows, Eddy Munster hair and odd and old grandma clothes. He’s just the kind of kid we all thought we were in seventh grade.


Will and Marcus bond against all odds, but things complicate when Will tries to pass the boy off as his son in order to foster a relationship with another single parent. Fiona falls into a deep depression and just as Marcus begins to make friends at his school he signs up to perform in a battle of the bands, where he hopes to sing his mom’s favorite song, “Killing me Softly” in order to cheer her up.


You won’t find a character you won’t like in About a Boy. At his calculating worst Will is still mostly just a child and Marcus is charmingly offbeat. Fiona is psychologically flawed, hopelessly idealistic, and in some ways harmful to her own son, but she is also a fully constituted human being.


Grant has never been better. Devilishly shallow, Will is completely charming despite the fact that his is mostly vacant. Like Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky, Grant treads the difficult road between intensely clever and essentially empty. These are the kinds of characters who study Men’s Health, GQ and Vogue the way philosophers read Nietzsche. Hoult is likewise enthralling as Marcus, who has the uncanny ability to make adults feel slowwitted and dull without making childhood appear to be a basket full of rainbow clichés, either.


About a Boy doesn’t take shortcuts. Will does not step out from behind his stylish shoes and stylized disheveled hair and convey some ponderous truth about the modern condition, yada, yada, yada, and Marcus is not a stand-in for Ricky Shroeder, ie. the generic cute kid. These are fleshy humans, wearing themselves for all to see, the kinds of people you meet everyday while doing your laundry.


The movie isn’t really a love story -- since it’s about community-building, not pair bonding -- but love is its hidden theme. Without love Will’s life is really just a routine of pretty empty gestures. And although love may be all you need, sometimes you need a little help from your friends, too.


About a Boy is about the ways we drive each other mad and the things that save us in the end. Sometimes we only find out who we are by meeting someone else.

 
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