Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The (United States, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

I am unquestionably not a member of the target demographic for Ken Kwapis' (He Said, She Said) The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, but that didn't prevent me from enjoying it. Although there's plenty of manipulation to be found in this motion picture, that doesn't obscure the inherent humanity of the characters and the sense of emotional honesty that underlies their circumstances. Plus, the film features four strong leading performances from up-and-coming actresses who, at least from the evidence presented here, deserve to become stars. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants contains its share of flaws, but they are not significant enough to mute my enthusiasm for it.

The movie is based on the popular young adult's book of the same name by Ann Brashares (who has since penned two sequels). Beloved by pre-teen and teen girls everywhere, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants has developed a loyal following that could make this film a sleeper hit - if it finds its audience (always a trick for a non-testosterone-fueled production arriving amidst all of the male-oriented summer blockbusters). Unsurprisingly (considering the nature of the source material), I am not familiar with Brashares' work, so I can't provide a novel-to-film comparison, but what shows up on screen seems likely to find favor with its target demographic.

The film begins with a magical central conceit - a pair of jeans that fits each of four best friends perfectly, even though their body types are not similar. Those friends, who were all born within a week of each other and have been close since birth, are entering the summer between their junior and senior year in high school. Each has a different vacation on tap. Tibby (Amber Tamblyn), the most cynical of the group, plans to stay home, work at a local low-end department store (think Walmart), and make a "Suckumentary" about the kinds of losers who work and shop there. Carmen (American Ferrera) is giddy with anticipation about spending two months with her out-of-state father - until she learns that Dad has been keeping a few secrets from her. Strong-willed Bridget (Blake Lively), is off to Mexico for a soccer camp and a hot romance with one of the coaches. And shy Lena (Alexis Bledel) is taking a vacation to Greece, where she, like Bridget, meets a guy.

Before embarking upon their July and August adventures, the four girls form the "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants." Their charter lists ten rules, all of which must be followed. These include: "You must never wash the pants," "You must never pick your nose while wearing the pants," "You must never let a boy take off the pants (although you may take them off yourself in his presence)," and "You must pass the pants along to your sisters according to the specifications set down by the Sisterhood." The last rule mandates that, after having the pants for a week, each "sister" must FedEx them to the next one on the list.

As is expected with an episodic movie like this, some of the stories are more interesting than others. Although Lena's has the most picturesque locales and Bridget's has the best-looking people, the film's more emotionally involving tales focus on Tibby and Carmen. The latter's narrative involves the character's attempts to re-connect with a father who is more interested in elements of his new life than in leftovers from his old one. Meanwhile, Tibby's story forces her to confront the meaning of friendship when she finds herself assisted by a 12-year old girl with a tragic secret. Two of the four endings are too pat, but weaknesses associated with the conclusion don't invalidate the material that precedes them.

All four of the young actresses do fine jobs. The most accomplished of the quartet, Amber Tamblyn ("Joan of Arcadia"), gives the strongest performance. The moment when Tibby's cold fa├žade cracks is heartbreaking. America Ferrera, whose best-known previous exposure was in the independent film Real Women Have Curves, has a scene that is almost as emotionally wrenching. Alexis Bledel ("The Gilmore Girls"), with her luminous eyes (which were highlighted for her small role in Robert Rodriguez's Sin City), is captivating as Lena. And newcomer Blake Lively shows the vulnerability hidden beneath Bridget's bravado. Supporting adult performers include Nancy Travis, Bradley Whitford, and Rachel Ticotin. Jenna Boyd has a key part as Tibby's assistant, Baily.

Does The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants have cross-over potential? Or, to put it another way, will it appeal to those who are not fans of the books? That's debatable, not because the movie isn't strong enough to win new adherents, but because it's unclear how many who are not members of the book-loving crowd will give it a chance. Although targeted primarily for girls in the 12-to-19-year old range, there's enough truth about friendship, love, and life in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants to offer solid entertainment to almost anyone who gives it a chance. It's stronger than most teen girls' bonding movies (like Now and Then and Foxfire) and deserves to be seen on merit, not just because its lineage includes a best-selling book.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The (United States, 2005)

Run Time: 2:00
U.S. Release Date: 2005-06-01
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Profanity)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1