Tibby (Amber Tamblyn, TV's "Joan of Arcadia"), Lena (Alexis Bledel, "Sin City," "Tuck Everlasting"), Bridget (Blake Lively) and Carmen (America Ferrera, "Real Women Have Curves") are about to spend the first summer of their fifteen years apart, but a visit to a thrift shop serves up a strange bit of juju that will keep them connected. A pair of jeans that Tibby spots looks great on each of the four differently sized teens, so the girls gather where their mothers first met to form "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants."
Once you get over the weird premise of Ann Brashares' novel, "Sisterhood" turns out to be a decent teen girl's message movie. The titular pants turn out not to be the magical charm the girls believe they will be, instead delivering each of them to a challenging experience in her life. Parents should note that one of these storylines involves the loss of virginity, although director Ken Kwapis ("The Beautician and the Beast," "Dunston Checks In") and screenwriters Delia Ephron ("You've Got Mail") and Elizabeth Chandler ("What a Girl Wants") handle it so discreetly it will more than likely float over the heads of younger audience members.
The best of the four stories is the last one we're introduced to (the filmmakers round robin the different girls and locations throughout the film, with each receiving the pants twice) and involves the girl who stays behind. Tibby is the offbeat, artistic member of the group. The blase teen is making a documentary which she calls an 'ode to desperate lives.' A younger neighbor, Bailey (Jenna Boyd, "The Missing"), brings the jeans package that was mistakenly delivered to her address to Tibby's home and latches onto her and her project. Bailey's keen interest in people and her diametrically opposed approach brings a new life to Tibby's work. Meanwhile, reserved Lena (Bledel, all over the map from "Sin City" whore to buttoned up goody-two-shoes) is engaged in a Romeo and Juliet type romance while visiting her grandparents on the picturesque Greek island of Santorini. She meets Kostas (Michael Rady), the grandson of the man her grandfather has been feuding with for years, when she gets caught underwater by the hem of the sisterhood pants and he dives in to save her. Bridget (Tatum O'Neal lookalike Lively) goes to a Baja soccer camp where she acts out her grief over her mother's recent suicide by seducing off-limits camp coach Eric (Mike Vogel, 2003's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre"), then finding she feels all empty inside. Carmen is thrilled to be spending the summer with her dad, who left her mom when she was little, in South Carolina, then is caught short to find he's engaged to the very whitebread Lydia Rodman (Nancy Travis, TV's "Becker") whose two teenaged children also live with him.
Amber Tamblyn has the most interesting character and seems the most like a real live person, but the movie is practically stolen by supporting player Boyd. Watch out Dakota Fanning - there's a new, mature-beyond-her-years actress in your age group just waiting to steal your thunder! Bledel's a bit anemic in her overtly romanticized storyline in its fairy tale setting. Lena's Yia Yia (Maria Konstandarou) and Papou (George Touliatos, "Good Boy!") are postcard grandparents, peasant stock who live in a stunning villa which grips the hillside overlooking Santorini's harbor. America Ferrera, who also does a 180 with her upcoming role in "Lords of Dogtown," is our capable narrator. Her character Carmen has a justifiable gripe, but forced to constantly whine about it, Ferrera begins to lose sympathy. Still, she's a believable girl and it is refreshing to see Ferrera is still pushing her "Curves" agenda as well. Lively nails the manic perkiness of someone trying to cover deep-seated emotional pain. Her resolution with Eric rings too good to be true, but is played well enough to go along with.
Kwapis keeps us engaged throughout the film's rather long (for its demographic) running time, even though his construction of the film is rather stodgy. The film's early scene where the girls first find the pants is so overly choreographed you can practically see the actresses thinking about hitting her respective mark. Still, Kwapis gets consistent performances from the group of four girls who genuinely project a loyal bond. And Tamblyn and Boyd are a terrific pairing - better than the romantic ones featured in two other threads.
"The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" is a cut above the fare usually served up for young girls and should even mildly entertain any parents who may accompany them.
Robin did not see this film.
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