The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
directed by Ken Kwapis
(Warner Bros., 2005)

Teeeeeen mooovie.

Drag it out when you say it, because most movies aimed at "teens" (and made by people who haven't been teenagers since Reagan was in office, at best) just, well, drag on forever.

Luckily, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants doesn't overstay its welcome, nor is it a flick that most parents will dread watching with their kids -- daughters or sons.

True, there are some overt emotional manipulations, blatant enough that you can see the hands of screenwriters Delia Ephron and Elizabeth Chandler (as well as those of novelist Ann Brashares, on whose novel this is based) looming out to give those heartstrings a big tug. But the saving grace of Sisterhood is the sisters -- friends, really, who are about to be separated for summer vacation when they're 16.

Lena (Alexis Bledel) is off to Greece to visit her grandparents. Bridget (Blake Lively) will be at an exclusive soccer camp in Baja. And Carmen (America Ferrera, whose Real Women Have Curves is still one of my favorite contemporary coming-of-age films) is heading to visit the Anglo father who left Carmen and her Puerto Rican mother years before.

That leaves Tibby (Amber Tamblyn), defensive Tibby, sarcastic, aspiring filmmaker Tibby, whose summer will be spent babysitting her infant sibling and working at a drugstore to fund her documentary (also known as The Suckumentary).

They're tied together by The Jeans, just a pair of Levi's found in a secondhand store that, magically, fit them all even though they're not at all built the same.

The deal is this: each girl will keep the pants for a week, then FedEx them on to the next girl. There are rules to be followed, and one is that no one else may take off the jeans.

What the pants essentially are, of course, is a vehicle for each of the young women to use as she takes a step toward adulthood, as she makes a realization that nudges her a bit more out of childhood and into a deeper understanding of "growing up."

What's nice about Sisterhood is that, even though it goes over the edge with sappy drivel every once in a while, the movie by and large tries hard not to be a piece of fluff. It deals with "issues," much as that word gets overused: Has Carmen's dad "replaced" her with a new, skinnier, "whiter" family? Will anything, even a sexual fling with her camp counselor, fulfill Bridget's longing for her dead mother? What, or who, can break through Lena's wall? And can a young girl who insinuates herself into Tibby's filming routine have anything to teach her?

You bet Sisterhood tries hard to have you reaching for the entire box of tissues. Yet, at the very least, it also tries very hard to be something more. And Bledel, Ferrera, Lively and Tamblyn often shine in their effort to be much more, too.

by Jen Kopf
6 May 2006

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