Ya, Ya!

I saw this at a screening at Univeral Studios opening day where the screenwriter - and first time director - Callie Khouri introduced the film (also the writer for Thelma & Louise). To my disappointment, there was little actual comment from her at the start of the screening, and none afterwards, to be able to draw in more to the experience. Perhaps reading the novel would have filled out some of those details, but I've been slacking in that department in recent years. But that’s got little to do with the quality of the film, just the potential quality of my viewing experience. Anything I might have learned would only serve to help my understanding of the film, and not likely my enjoyment of it.

But anyway, what we have here is an adaptation of the best selling book of the same name. The action goes in and out between flashback and a contemporary storyline. As with most adaptations, there is a feeling of material skipped over, but the feeling is actually pretty minimal here, mainly relating to character in the film not followed up on in the contemporary period. The adaptation seems very well done, something tricky to do right. I have a strong temptation to pick up that novel for simply enjoying it, not simply tracking down the differences. Without that information, though, I can’t pin down the source of the weakness in the movie, though my suspicions lie with the original source material. Regardless, film needs to stand on its own.

The tale is one of guilt and forgiveness, set among a family and a set of very special friends with history that goes back to childhood. Crisis sets in when the leader of the Sisterhood (Ellen Burstyn) falls out with her daughter (Sandra Bullock). The other Ya-Ya's step in to rectify the situation, now a group of older ladies exuding empowerment themes by being scrappy and sure of themselves at their age.

Their solution? Kidnap the daughter and tell her stories of her mother when she was younger. That's a little bit of an oversimplification, but it's not much of a secret here that the movie has to make it on the basis of character and acting. And it fulfills, mainly in those flashbacks, where Ashley Judd as the younger version of Burstyn's character turns in a very nuances performance.

To me, the biggest problem is the resolution. It feels good – meaning, as an audience member, the final solution of the movie’s prime motivator comes across as believable and resonant. However, what is lacking is a suitable weight in the solution that justifies the entire film’s existence. It’s an arguable point, but I feel it must be made. The movie does get wrapped up, but leaving the feeling that, if it was that easy, maybe there wasn’t that much to wrap up after all.

The feeling of skipped material mainly comes from the existence of characters, most notably the family maid, who seem important, feature prominently in places, but are left up in the air for no apparent reason.

But despite the flaws, this is one of those that still feels good. For an adaptation, it does admirably despite everything I've said. But I suspect there'll be little middle ground out there, you'll love it or hate it.

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