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"Shows why meaningful relationships are the fabric of our lives."
"These performances emit an appropriate amount of warmth and camaraderie without going into the land of sentimental sappiness."
"For all its good intentions, this Sisterhood is divine."
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants  

Cast

Tibby: Amber Tamblyn
Lena: Alexis Bledel
Carmen: America Ferrera
Bridget: Blake Lively
Bailey: Jenna Boyd
Al: Bradley Whitford
Lydia Rodmant: Nancy Travis
Carmen's mother: Rachel Ticotin
Review June 2005

In spite of its feminine appearance and colorful title, this is not your typical chick flick. Based on the New York Times' best seller by Ann Brashares, "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" tells the story of four best friends, who discover a pair of magical jeans that fits each one perfectly. And as a means of communication over the summer, each wears the pants for a week before sending them off to the next. And back and forth the pants go, as the girls share deeply personal experiences of love and loss, joy and sadness, life and death. Staying faithful to the words and spirit of Brashares' book, director Ken Kwapis manages to balance each of the stories equally with charm all the while benefiting from a delightful cast. And wisely, he steers the film away from sappy melodrama and instead, depicts characters and situations with intelligence, humor, and a little tenderness. It's sweet, but not too sweet. And most importantly, it shows why meaningful relationships are the fabric of our lives.

They were born to mothers who met in a pre-natal aerobics class, grew up together, and developed a friendship over the years in spite of their diverse interests and personalities. Comprising this quartet of young women: Carmen, the volatile one; Lena, the soft-spoken one; Tibby, the rebellious one; and Bridget, the athletic one. They were inseparable since birth, but that is about to change as their lives begin to go in different directions. Carmen is leaving the state to spend time with her father, whom she lost touch with after her parent's divorce. Lena is heading to Greece to visit her grandparents. Bridget is going to soccer camp in Mexico and Tibby will remain in town, working at a local discount store. But before they all depart, the girls take a shopping trip, only to discover a unique pair of jeans that fits and flatters each one of them. So they pick up the jeans and form a new bond of sisterhood around them, one that involves sharing the pants as a means of keeping in touch over the summer.

During the summer, each of the girls experiences a variety of predicaments. Carmen's father has been living with another woman and her children, all of whom reject or ignore Carmen upon her arrival. Bridget relentlessly pursues a soccer coach despite his disinterest. Lena falls off a pier and nearly drowns only to be rescued by a Greek hunk, whose family is her family's feuding rivals. And Tibby is hounded by a teenage girl named Bailey who wants to participate in her film project but has a personal battle of her own to fight. In the midst of these turbulent times, the pants exchange hands. And as each of the girls experience challenges and surprises, the pants remain the common thread in a lasting friendship. One that is much stronger together than hundreds of miles apart.

Written by Ann Brashares, "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" is the first in a trilogy of books, which also includes "The Second Summer of the Sisterhood" and "Girls in Pants." And in each of the books, the girls mature and experience life while accompanied by a pair of magical pants. But are they really magic? Do they bring the girls good fortune? Well, not exactly. Perhaps the only magical element of the jeans is how they fit all four body types perfectly. Beyond that, the charm of the story is how a single article of clothing can act as a vessel for memories and emotions and how it bridges the distance between the friends spiritually. With the pants as an observer, the girls experience their first loves and losses, make new friends and reconnect with their families. Most simply, the real magic of the story is in the writing. Specifically, how Brashares defines the characters and situations in real terms, without a definitive good or bad angle, and touches on common emotions like humor, anxiety, sorrow, and the need to be loved.

Perhaps one of the most difficult things to do in film is to adequately sustain multiple storylines within the confines of a single reel of film. And kudos must be given to director Ken Kwapis and his fellow editors for this remarkable accomplishment, properly balancing four equally compelling stories without displacement. While it's easy to see how the pants act as the common thread, it's really the girls who must confront the issues of the day. And the storytelling and editing techniques do not get in the way, allowing the characters to evolve naturally. Carmen becomes courageous and upfront with her father; Lena, confident and outspoken about her Greek love; Bridget, self-aware and honest about love and emptiness; and Tibby, positive and adventurous after her relationship with Bailey. Each of the stories is smart and true. And because the editing is brisk and unintrusive, never too long or too short, the characters and their situations flow freely and convincingly.

In conjunction with effective storytelling techniques, the film basks in the glow of four well-balanced performances. America Ferrera, coming off her fantastic role in "Real Women Have Curves," portrays the sassy and emotional Carmen, whose volatile family life becomes the most engrossing. As the narrator of the story, her spirit becomes the cornerstone for the rest of the girls; Amber Tamblyn is best known for her starring role on "Joan of Arcadia." Tamblyn plays Tibby, the rebellious one. Absorbed in her own misery and anger, she hides behind sarcasm and wit, which only makes her transformation all the more meaningful. As the introverted Lena, Alexis Bledel from "Gilmore Girls" fame, is believably shy and modest. And her realization of self-confidence and self-image is as beautiful as a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. And lastly, newcomer Blake Lively plays the impulsive, high octane Bridget with energy and magnetism. But because she chooses denial over grief, she heads down the path of self-destruction, using her athleticism, ego, and good looks to get what she wants. Combined, these performances emit an appropriate amount of warmth and camaraderie without going into the land of sentimental sappiness.

I would be remiss, of course, if I did not mention a subtle fifth performance that very nearly matches that of the leading actresses. Cast as Bailey, a young girl with a severe medical condition, Jenna Boyd is captivating. Initially, her character comes across as forward and overly curt, but the beauty of the performance is how her qualities become translucent and begin to rub off on Tibby. Boyd, who also left an emotional mark in Ron Howard's "The Missing," is well on her way.

Although not necessarily a bad thing, the film focuses more on the sisterhood than the traveling pants. In fact, midway through, you almost forget that the pants are there, left all alone on Tibby's bedside. And ultimately, you realize that it is the written word that carries the most weight, as the characters intuitively read through the lines of letters to rescue and console one another. For instance, Lena receives a distressed letter from Bridget and forwards it on to Carmen and Tibby who in turn, comfort Bridget with a pizza party sleep over. Yes, empowered characters are nice to see; however, this means that the pants mere purpose is as an observer rather than a participant. And more conspicuously, they are attributed no lasting magic other than that of an inconsequential plot device.

At least, not until the end. Desperate for some sort of closure, the film attempts to tie all the loose ends by either invoking the magical pants or forcing favorable circumstances. Bridget chases after her dog, which stole the pants, only to reunite with the soccer coach. Reeling from despair and uncertainty, Tibby stumbles upon the perfect segment for her summer project. After a multi-generational feud, Lena's grandfather suddenly has a change of heart. And unable to get through to her father throughout the story, Carmen has a breakthrough at, of all places, her father's wedding. The reason much of this is detrimental is that the film challenges its characters with real situations and allows them to react or behave in a way that is convincing. We see how things don't always work out or go in the girl's favor. So why then should that change suddenly? Why place circumstantial, clich?d endings onto such believable stories?

Rule number ten of the Sisterhood states: Remember - pants equals love. Love your pals. Love yourself. It's a pleasant reminder of the importance of friendship and the importance of self- respect, simple and encouraging words for young adults. That's the true magic behind "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," a smart, authentic story about real emotions, real characters, and real life. And the film finds the right balance between all of its stories, aided by unobtrusive editing and a cast of remarkable young women. Whether you identify with one or more of the stories, you'll notice that its heart is in the right place. And because of that, it's hard to blame it for wanting a fairy tale ending. For all its good intentions, this Sisterhood is divine.



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