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Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Movie Review

originally posted many years ago

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants opens with four best friends sitting in the dark and holding a pair of jeans by candlelight. The girls have been inseparable since birth (and even before), and this is their last night together before they part ways for the summer-the first time they have ever been apart. Bridgette (Blake Lively), bubbly and boy-crazy, is bound for a soccer camp in Mexico; Lena (Alexis Beldel), reserved and beautiful, is off to Greece to stay with her grandparents; Carmen (America Ferrera), intelligent yet sensitive, will spend the summer with her dad in South Carolina and Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) is stuck at home with a crappy supermarket job and just enough free-time to work on her documentary. The girls will be far apart, but they have decided to stay linked by this pair of jeans, which magically fits all four of them (even the plus-sized Carmen). They will each wear the jeans for one week, document the most interesting thing that happens while wearing them, and then send them to the next girl. The jean wearing and passing has a few rules (the only unbroken rule: "No one but the wearer can remove the pants."), the most important of which is "the pants equal love. Love yourself, and love your sisters."

After the girlish seance, we think we know where The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is going. We can draw from our memories of other silly Best Friends Forever movies and predict the film's outcome. The girls will have some laughs, meet cute boys, learn shallow lessons, and return home with their lives forever changed by these magic jeans. But The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is a deceiving little movie. Just when we think this nappy-headed sorority tale will dive deep and hard into cliche, it arrives at something genuine. Sisterhood writhes free of expectations, mutes the crap of other teen movies, and finds the poignant notes beneath the noise. Sure, the girls in Sisterhood also have laughs and meet cute boys, but the laughs are the result of interaction, not jokes, and the cute boys leave one girl in love and the other with a sobering new perspective on life. And there are lessons here too, but few of them are shallow. Truth is, I kind of loved Sisterhood because I have a feeling it will reach its target audience in a way they never expected. If you are young, at all idealistic, and looking for a film that shares your want for companionship, humanity and humor, then see The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, because it has seen you.

I have made it sound like this movie revolutionizes the teenage girl comedy, when really all it does is offer the genre a few new twists. Sisterhood is still peachy and preachy, and it finishes with the happiest of endings, but it is more mature about its subject matter than most movies of its kind. The movie's four "stories," one for each Traveling Pants Sister, are recognizable in conception and execution, but they each betray their form just enough to create something special.

Take Bridgette's story, for example. Within the first few days of her Mexican soccer camp, Bridgette falls for one of her coaches, a hot young thing named Eric (Mike Vogel) and plays very forward to get his attention. Of course, camp rules make it a forbidden fling, but we've seen this kind of story before, and we know they'll end up together. And they do end up together, although not even remotely the way you imagine. Bridgette's story ends far away from Eric in the comforting arms of her three girls, as she has turned a new corner in discovering herself.

The other boy-meets-girl story is that of Lena and a strapping young Greek boy (Michael Rady), who chisels through her timid exterior with his super-suave manlyness. This story is a little more conventional than Bridgette's, if only because it ends exactly as we expect it to. For those who want a giddy romantic comedy (and fear change), Lena's story will deliver.

The two most moving stories are Carmen and Tibby's; they contain the moments of Sisterhood that surprise us the most. Tibby's story pairs her with Bailey (Jenna Boyd), a young girl who cherishes every moment of her life, and with good reason. Tibby herself is sort of annoying-she's one of these softy rebel types whose strongest ties to an anti-establishment cause are a tiny nose ring and a head of blue-streaked hair. However, when she shares moments with the scene-stealing Jenna Boyd, who at only twelve is well on her way to greatness, Tibby becomes an absorbing, soul-searching individual.

The real depth and daring of Sisterhood is found within Carmen's story, a mess of familial struggles and deep-rooted anger that isn't easy to untangle. Carmen finds herself enraged and confused when her father (Bradley Whitford of "The West Wing") remarries and seems to devote more time to his new family than to her. In some ways, Carmen's hurt is justified (Bradley Whitford's restrained performance reveals a man who has hidden his past mistakes within the memory of his old life), but the movie doesn't try to conceal her stubbornness, her misunderstanding, her wrongs. Carmen is someone that young women can really relate to-she has faults and insecurities, and she is one of the few overweight teenage characters to be considered by a movie in human terms. The message of Carmen's story is complicated and may fly over the heads of Sisterhood's target audience, but the issues observed and the performances captured in this vignette will have a more lasting impact than any other part of the movie.

The performances. I can't say enough good things about the four lovely actresses chosen to headline this film. None of them are big names (Amber Tamblyn, star of TV's "Joan of Arcadia," is probably the most recognizable), which suggests that all of them were chosen purely to fit their characters, which they do marvelously. So much talent exists between these four girls that they steal the entire film away from the writers, the director and even Ann Brashares, the author of the source novel. What a subtle performer is Almber Tamblyn, who can express complicated emotions in seconds with the slightest of looks. Alexis Beldel is remarkable at playing a young girl in love; her eyes take on a dreamy glint, as if Bledel herself were hit by the real thing. Blake Lively, aside from abundant sex appeal, masters the little twitches and quirks that I've admired in just about every teenage girl I know.

And America Ferrera-what a knockout. A simple scene where Carmen pours out her feelings to her father says it all. Ferrera has a powerful range, a disarming understanding of character, and an unusual appeal-a talent that defies her age within a body that defies the Hollywood standard. And what a warming feeling it is to know that someone in a business as superficial as the movies could see Ferrera's atypical beauty and resign any potential casting concerns to the treasures that she brings to the screen. Ferrera is not just one to watch, but something special to behold.

That these four actresses are allowed to stretch their talents in a disposable movie like this shows just how mature The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants really is. Simply designed and easy to swallow, Sisterhood will give its target audience everything they wanted and expected, and then a bit more. It will not merely cater to their shallow whims and impulses; it will likely startle them with an honestly that they never imagined they could find in a movie. For those of us over sixteen, who have seen a few of these in our day, Sisterhood at least assures us that Hollywood still has a few curveballs waiting for the windup.

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