Based on the best-selling novel by Ann Brasheres, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is the story of four seventeen year-old Maryland girls, lifelong friends about to spend their first summer away from one another.
Carmen, excellently played by America Ferrara (Real Women Have Curves), is Hispanic, feisty and voluptuous. Bridget (Blake Lively) is blonde, wholesome-pretty, a soccer star with a wild side. Lena (Alexis Bledel) is fine-featured, beautiful, but shy and uncomfortable with her femininity. Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) is the streaky-haired, neopunk cynic of the group, self-absorbed and contemptuous of her suburban world and the “losers” that inhabit it. She works in a Walmart-like store and would rather be in Hell.
Before the Sisters say goodbye for the summer, they try on a pair of jeans at a thrift store. In spite of the girls’ very different shapes, the pants magically fit all four. The Sisterhood is born: they will share the pants, and their secrets, by mail through the summer.
Carmen, whose parents are divorced, goes off to visit her father in another state. Bridget, stunned by her mother’s suicide, flies to Mexico to attend a soccer camp. Lena heads for a spectacularly beautiful Greek mountain village to stay with her grandparents. Tibby, stranded in suburbia, makes her “suckumentary” with the help of Bailey (Jenna Boyd), a precocious twelve year-old with a luminous smile and a sad secret.
Directed by Ken Kwapis, (“The Office”), the film jump-cuts between Sisters and subplots with brain-addling speed, as the pants work their wizardry. Gentler transitions and longer scenes would have been less distracting and more conducive to processing the rich, emotionally-charged material presented here. I found Bridget’s story the least engaging, marred by a bland and befuddled-looking love interest: her college-boy soccer coach (Mike Vogel), and Bridget’s silly, spazzy attempts to initiate a romance that comes off as poorly-grounded and unconvincing.
There’s plenty to nitpick about here. One could argue that the Sisters are stereotypes who wouldn’t come near each other in real life, or that Greece can't look like it’s been gone over with Soft Scrub so that even the dirty old men eyeballing Lena look clean. Do the women really have to be straight out of My Big Fat Greek Whatever, spouting home-baked philosophy and emoting hysterically? There are cliches by the yard and a healthy dollop of the derivative, but also a core of emotional intelligence and truth. Each girl, with the help of the pants, undergoes a positive transformation. The film, despite its flaws, is affecting, and, in the end, works.
Though the book targeted a tweener audience, broad themes such as the meaning of true friendship, growing up and finding a place in the world, love, sex, death and other adolescent concerns are competently addressed, giving the film a potentially wider appeal. Try on the “Pants”. They just might fit.
The special features offered on the DVD are a mix of fluff and substance. A commentary by the four main actresses, "Fun on the Set", has each "Sister" praising the others and emoting about the fun they all had making the film. It's a bit much, pardon my skepticism, when they gush about becoming real-life best friends as a result of working together.
Tibbie’s “suckumentary” is presented in its entirety, and it actually doesn’t suck. With Bailey jumping in with provocative questions, to Tibbie’s dismay, it’s often touching and funny. A comment made to Tibby on-camera by a coworker is priceless: “A documentary? Oh, that‘s like a film, only boring. I saw one once.”
For me, the interview with author Ann Brasheres was the standout feature. Her intelligence, lack of pretense and genuine caring for her characters and her audience comes through, plus a teaser: will the Sisters series end with the fourth book, due next year, and break a few million twelve year-old hearts ?
Deleted scenes are offered with optional director’s commentary. Seeing such scenes has never done much for me, but I found Mr. Kwapis’ explanations for the cut footage insightful and interesting. I was struck by his comment that Alexis Bledel (Lena) conveys so much emotion without speaking that she could have been a silent film star.
Altogether, the features are reasonably brief and worth watching and enhance the experience of the film, except perhaps for "Fun on the Set".