Monday, June 10, 2002

Fried Green Magnolias

Anyone who truly knows me knows that if there is but one love of my life it is going to the latest "chick flick" all by myself. Thus when I noted a vacation day happened to coincide with the opening of the new film The Secrets of the Divine Ya-Ya Sisterhood, I just knew I'd be spending the afternoon in the dark.

"All by myself" may not be an entirely accurate term. My "date" for the two hours was my sweetie Sandra Bullock who plays Sidda Walker a playwright who is being slowly driven mad by her mother Vivi (Ellen Burstyn). When Sidda admits as much in a Time Magazine interview joking that at least her wacky upbringing gave her plenty of artistic material to work with, Vivi is livid. Between sips of booze and yelping and cutting up family pictures, she disowns her daughter.

That's when the Ya-Ya sisters step in. The trio of Vivi's lifetime friends decide to kidnap Sidda to convince her that behind her mother's wacky behavior lies a secret that makes all forgivable. The story, based on books by Rebecca Wells, is apparently a hit with women readers who have formed sort of a secret Ya-Ya like club amongst themselves. Indeed I may have been the only male member (so to speak) in the audience at one of the first showings in the Twin Cities. I wasn't exactly looking forward to the movie- the previews I had seen made the movie look absolutely dreadful. It was only out of loyalty to Sandra that I decided to give it a try.

It took me a while to warm up to the characters. At first it all comes across as another tired film featuring witty eccentrics that have a zinger for every occasion. But it turns out the movie isn't exactly a comedy. There are some dark themes dealt with including alcoholism and physical abuse (with even a hint of incest) and by the end there is enough depth that the emotional climax of the movie has been earnestly earned.

Ashley Judd (who plays a young Vivi via flashbacks that comprise half of the movie) gives a versatile and absolutely mesmerizing performance. Her wonderfully ever twinkling eyes mask the utter ultimate collapse of her character. There is a scene where she has left her family, checked into a motel and awakes from her depression to find out she doesn't even know what day it is. She stares into the mirror for minutes and her hard and weary features express more than all the one liners and wacky plot developments we have seen thus far.

Besides Judd's performance perhaps the best part of the movie comes right at the very end as the closing credits roll over a shot of twinkling candles. Out of the void, a light waltz begins to play accompanied by the last voice you'd expect to hear in a "chick flick" (I guess the movie earns that label because instead of action sequences we get a story about relationships and carrying the scars caused by others). It's a brand new Bob Dylan song, "Waiting for You." Dylan's voice is as expressively croaky as ever and his splendid love song sums up the emotions of the movie with wit.

"Happiness is but a state of mind/ Anytime you want, you can cross the state line/You don't need to be rich or well-to-do/I'll be around, waitin' for you."

Bullock by the way gives a nice understated performance that has a bit more emotional depth than we've seen before. Having lost her mother to cancer last year the story about a difficult mother/daughter love for each other no doubt must have appealed to the actress reading the script for the first time.

A movie spent with Bullock and Dylan and ironically another ended up on my mind and in my thoughts and heart. My favorite heavy breather recently has talked to me about difficulties she is having with her mother. A recent phone call in which she banged her knee on an open drawer reaching for the phone left plenty of pain but not as much as what else is apparently going on in her life. I doubt I'm the one to be discussing such matters with but it has always meant a lot whatever she shares with me. Not being able to offer much advice, I dearly hope she sees this movie with her mother. The ultimate message is a worthy one- that our scars often prevent us from taking the chances that we should take and there are some moments in life that define us and that can either make us a better person or weaken us in a way that we'll never quite recover from. You don't want to wait until it's too late to realize that those who hurt us most can maybe even be the ones we will miss most in the end.

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