Bad Title, Good Movie
As a practicing movie addict, I’ll view practically anything that flickers. However, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is such a horrible title that I almost missed seeing this little gem of a movie. Yes, I know the Ann Brashares’ novel of the same name earned quite a following and became a bestseller, but I still wish the movie had used another title -- something like The Magic Jeans or 4 Girls and a Pair of Levis or anything else, for that matter.
Now that I’ve got that off my chest, let the praise begin. Amber Tamblyn, Alexis Bledel, Blake Lively and America Ferrera light up the screen as high school best friends who must part for the first time during one summer vacation. When they find a pair of jeans that fits each one of them perfectly, the girls decide to keep in touch by taking turns wearing the jeans, then sending them on to the next friend on the “traveling pants” list. This special article of clothing becomes a symbolic link for an unbreakable friendship, and these four beguiling young actresses do a terrific job of showing how much their characters care about each other.
Only one of the girls stays home during the summer in question. Tibby, played by Tamblyn (Joan of Arcadia) is a cynical rebel who stocks the shelves at a local store while trying to make a documentary (which she calls a “suckumentary”). What an expressive face Tamblyn has! She projects so much heartbreaking emotion with those soulful eyes, especially when dealing with disturbing news about her self-appointed filmmaking assistant (Jenna Boyd, a delightful scene-stealer). I think an entire movie could be made about these two fascinating youngsters.
Carmen, portrayed by Ferrera (Real Girls Have Curves) spends part of the summer trying to get better acquainted with her dad (Bradley Whitford) who left his wife and child several years earlier. However, standing in her way are the dad’s wedding plans and his potential new family. Carmen is probably the most difficult role in this film, but Ferrera manages to carry it off by emerging as a volatile bundle of anger ready to erupt at all the wrong moments.
Newcomer Lively makes an impressive motion picture debut as Bridget, who uses her athletic skill like a shield against the sadness she feels about her mom’s suicide. Bridget spends her summer at a soccer camp in Mexico and falls for one of the coaches, which, of course, is against the rules. With her strong physical stature and vibrant screen charisma, Lively reminds me of Daryl Hannah at the beginning of her movie career.
Finally, there’s Lena -- portrayed with birdlike delicacy by Bledel (Tuck Everlasting) -- a shy artist who discovers her true self through the ups and downs of a romantic adventure while visiting her grandparents in Greece. Bledel’s youthful loveliness almost outshines the visual splendor of Santorini, the Greek island photographed so gloriously by John Bailey (Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood).
Director Ken Kwapis (He Said, She Said) deserves credit for steering away from anything sappy or cute and for “making sure the voices and intention of Ann Brashares’ story were vividly preserved from book to screen.” Fortunately, Kwapis had expert help from screenwriters Delia Ephron (You’ve Got Mail) and Elizabeth Chandler (What a Girl Wants).
How does author Brashares feel about the finished product? She reports being happy that the filmmakers depicted her characters as she envisioned them -- “with warts and all” -- and that they avoided the temptation to wrap things up neatly. “I never want to tell a story that’s leading up to a lesson learned,” Brashares says. “If that’s what’s drawing you through a story then you’re not listening to the characters the way you need to. In life, not everything is resolved.”
Everything may not be resolved in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, but at least one thing comes through with stunning clarity -- the importance of having good friends you can count on at any age.
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated “PG” for thematic elements, some sexuality and language.)