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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

eFilmcritic Archive: "The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants" (2005)

Conventional wisdom dictates that I’m not supposed to like a movie called “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” but then how boring would this life be if all we did was subscribe to conventional wisdom? So, I like this movie. I like the cast, I like three of the four stories it tells and I like the good-natured tone of it. It sets out to accomplish simple goals and it achieves most of them and, in spite of the fact that I happen to be a 32-year old male and not a 16 year old girl, I can still relate to parts of it nonetheless. The best coming-of-age movies have a way of reaching audiences beyond their target demographic and this movie does that.

It’s a goofy premise, to be sure. Four teenage girls who have been best friends since conception each try on a single pair of pants that miraculously fits all four of them in spite of their different waist sizes. Since they all have to separate for the summer, they vow to stay in contact with one another by mailing the pants every week. The pants clearly have some magic laced within the fabric. As the movie strolls along, it becomes less about the pants and more about letting yourself out of your own comfort zone. You could almost leave the “Traveling Pants” off the storyline completely and focus on the “Sisterhood” and nothing would get lost.

But, okay, it’s a harmless narrative gimmick. The first sign of “magic” comes when Lena (Alexis Bledel), the supposedly repressed one of the bunch, wears them in Greece when she stays with her Grandparents. She conveniently falls off of a peer and into the water only to be rescued by a boyish man-hunk who ends up being her summer love in spite of her Grandparents’ forbidding it. As her story goes on, she lets her hair down more, wears beautiful dresses and learns to kiss and fall in love. Yeah, I know it’s simplistic girlie stuff, but Bledel makes it work.

On the other side of the globe are her three friends. The one staying home for the summer, Tibby (Amber Tamblyn), works at a department store and hates every minute of it. She has been making a documentary about the lonely lives of quiet desperation her co-workers seem to lead. Life turns around for Tibby when she befriends an 11-year old girl named Bailey (Jenna Boyd), who has leukemia. Reluctant to let Bailey join her on her on making the documentary, the two become unlikely friends and the project goes from being a “suckumentary” (as Tibby puts it) to something else entirely. (In case you’re wondering, this is the part of a movie I can relate to the most).

Meanwhile in New Mexico, Carmen (America Ferrera of “Real Women Have Curves”) stays with her father who, unbeknownst to her, has since moved in with a perky, suburban family of three. To make matters worse, he plans on marrying his new boring girlfriend. Carmen can hardly get a word in edgewise about how upset she feels that her father didn’t come clean with this news a lot sooner. This part of the movie becomes about the communication gaps that exist between divorced parents and their kids and how the gap widens with the passing of time.

The least interesting story of the four has to do with Bridget (Blake Lively), the “hot blonde” of the four whose mom has just died. Her father has sent her to a soccer camp for the summer where she falls for a handsome guy and will stop at nothing to land him. She flirts with him endlessly and he plays hard to get. He seems to have a secret, but his explanation ends up being uninteresting to carry the story. This part of the film could have been about something more (really, one Summer Love story is enough for this film).

But director Ken Kwapis and screenwriters Delia Ephron and Elizabeth Chandler (based on Ann Brashares’ book) don’t drop the ball completely. In the end, the movie is still about a lot of issues everyone has to deal with at some point in their lives. The four leads give terrific performances and the chemistry between them all works. They lend a great deal of credibility to the material and Kwapis knows when to cut away from a scene when it carries the potential for shmaltz. As a director of two of the best episodes of the defunct “Freaks and Geeks,” Kwapis is a natural choice to direct this kind of film and brings the same sensitivity and restraint that made that show so wonderful.

Overall, the movie ends up being about the importance of letting yourself feel such complex emotions and ideas such as love, sadness, forgiveness, anger and self respect. At two full hours, this harmless movie runs a bit too long, but I still didn’t mind spending time with these characters. It will no doubt win fans amongst its target demographic, but if you bravely let yourself forget that you’re watching a movie called “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” you might be surprised by how much you like it, too.

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