Grab your tissues and send the guys away, because Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood is the most pedigreed chick flick since Steel Magnolias. You can tell by the title and the novelish names of the Louisiana ladies from Rebecca Wells's precious bestseller. First there's Sidda (Sandra Bullock), a successful playwright still wrestling with her manipulative mother, Vivi (Ellen Burstyn), after a traumatic upbringing. Then there's longtime friends Teensy (Fionnula Flanagan), Necie (Shirley Knight), and Caro (scene-stealer Maggie Smith), from Vivi's secret club of "Ya-Ya Priestesses," together since childhood and determined to heal the rift between Sidda and her mom. Through an ambitious flashback structure (including Ashley Judd as the younger Vivi), screenwriter and first-time director Callie Khouri (who wrote Thelma & Louise) establishes a rich context for this mother-daughter reunion. There's plenty of humor to temper the drama, which inspires Bullock's best work in years. Definitely worth a look for the curious, but only fans of Wells's fiction will feel any twinge of loyalty. --Jeff Shannon Fine performances and sensitive direction keep White Oleander from being a routine tearjerker. Adapted from Janet Fitch's bestseller (an Oprah's Book Club selection), this hard-edged drama boasts a reputable cast, but 23-year-old newcomer Alison Lohman steals the film from her A-list costars. As a troubled teen whose controlling mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) has been jailed for murder, Lohman is the film's heart and soul, bouncing between foster homes and rushing toward independence in a world of disappointing adults. After surviving episodic stints with a trashy born-again Christian (Robin Wright Penn), a suicidal housewife (Renie Zellweger), and a Russian immigrant (Zvetlana Efremova), she finds comfort with another outcast (Patrick Fugit), leaving behind the mothers who failed her. Making his feature directorial debut, British stage and TV veteran Peter Kosminsky creates a showcase for formidable actresses, each given moments to shine. White Oleander lacks the emotional depth of Fitch's novel, but it speaks volumes about the delicate balance of freedom and responsibility. --Jeff Shannon
Production: Warner Bros. Pictures
1 win & 7 nominations.