Another popular women's novel joins the sorority of Southern chick flicks with Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, which counts Fried Green Tomatoes and How to Make an American Quilt among its precursors. It commits few obvious gaffes, but in a genre this familiar, with such select appeal, a film needs at least one strong departure to attain distinction. Without that, it's too much of the generic recipe, equal parts regional whimsy and tepid melodrama. One problem is that the film hasn't much to do with the sisterhood in question, nor the perfunctory mysticism that binds it together. Hence, the viewer struggles to integrate this gaggle of quirky yentas into the worthier tale of mental instability passed through the generations. It's a shame that director Callie Khouri can't make better use of Ashley Judd and the risks she takes as a mother coming unglued. Instead of the incisive directness one might expect from the scribe who wrote Thelma & Louise, Khouri fumbles Judd's illness by failing to attribute it to anything concrete, generating doubt toward the character rather than a needed sympathy. Meanwhile, Khouri opts to handle the present tense in a manner just this side of broad comedy. Picky fans may quibble with other alterations to Rebecca Wells' material, such as softening James Garner's character from dysfunctional collaborator to guiltless victim. The less discriminating ones will probably be as content as need be, and savor the film's soul-searching agenda.