It's sweet, it's gentle, it's romantic, it's heartwarming, it's touching, and it should be playing on the Lifetime channel for decades to come.
"The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" (2005) is the kind of film a guy can watch with his wife or girlfriend and not only enjoy the show but feel slightly less bad about all those "XXX" and "Transporter" flicks he's been subjecting her to over the years. Nowhere in "Traveling Pants" does anybody push anybody else through a plate glass window, and there isn't a single explosion in sight.
Based on one of a best-selling series of novels by Ann Brashares, "Traveling Pants" tells the story of four lifelong best friends, sixteen-year-olds, during a single summer when for the first time in their lives they are going to be apart. The two things that still keep them connected, though, are their everlasting friendship and a pair of blue jeans they buy that magically fit all four of them, even though the girls are totally different shapes and sizes.
Because "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" may find its greatest appeal among women, I'll let the Wife-O-Meter have the first word (not that she doesn't usually have the last word, too). "I thought it was a good coming-of-age movie that related well to young women. It was a little schmaltzy, but it also had some really good learning curves. I'm not sure how most other adults would view it, but I thought it presented a good young-adults' perspective on things. Maybe it's not so much a theatrical movie as it is a well-made TV movie, with important thematic elements for persons just entering womanhood." Her final assessment: a 7/10.
It doesn't always happen that the Wife-O-Meter and I agree perfectly on things, but we're in complete accord on this one. I was fully expecting something like "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood," which neither of us liked, and I was pleasantly surprised when "Traveling Pants" keep me intrigued and involved the whole way. There were even moments, and never corny ones, when I felt a slight tear forming in my eyes, always a good sign that something in a film is working right.
The story is both a single narrative and four separate narratives, an account of each of the four girls' activities cleverly interwoven into a seamless whole. You'd think such a framework would be awkward or confusing, but it's actually quite easy to follow, and it allows the story to move along from one subject to another quickly rather than linger overlong on any one thing. So, the variety improves the movie's pace.
The four girls--Carmen (America Ferrera), Lena (Alexis Bledel), Bridget (Blake Lively), and Tibby (Amber Tamblyn)--were always there for one another. Now they face a number of separations for the first time ever. Before they split up for the summer, they buy a pair of jeans that they agree to pass around among themselves, each getting to keep the pants for a week before mailing them on to the next girl. Then they document the events that occurred during the time they were wearing the jeans.
Every viewer will have a favorite story and a favorite character. We'll start with mine: Carmen. She introduces the movie in a voice-over, and hers is the most serious and affecting story of the lot. Her mom and dad are divorced, she lives with her mother, and she sees her father only once a year; this is her turn to visit him in South Carolina. But when she arrives, she's surprised to find out he's getting remarried. Worse, he's marrying into middle-class conformity. Carmen's mother is Puerto Rican and her dad is not. In appearance she takes after her mom: pretty, dark eyed, dark haired, dark complexioned, and pleasingly round. The woman his dad is marrying and the woman's two teenage children all look members of the Barbie Doll family. Carmen feels like an outsider, that she doesn't fit in, and that her dad doesn't love her anymore. Thanks to Ms. Ferrera's totally convincing and committed performance, we feel her heartache and frustration.
Shy, introverted Lena's story is the most glamorous, the most romantic, and the most visually appealing. Lena goes to Greece to visit her grandparents, where she is the first to wear the pants and almost drowns when she falls into the sea and snags her cuff on the bottom. A handsome young fisherman, Kostas (Michael Rady), rescues her, and their attraction to one another is obvious. But their families have hated one another for years, and Lena's grandmother warns Lena never to see Kostos again. You can see the complications and foresee the results.
Bridget's story is the most conventional, and the one we might most expect in a coming-of-age tale. She heads to Baja, México, for a soccer camp, where she is one of the stars. Tall and statuesque, Bridget is the most mature looking of the four girls and the most sexually aggressive. While at camp, she passes herself off as seventeen, a year older than she really is, when she meets and decides to snag the camp's hunky, college-age coach, Eric (Mike Vogel). He's supposed to be off limits, which only makes her more determined to grab him. When she does, it isn't everything she imagined.
Finally, Tibby's story is the most emotionally involving. She hasn't the money for or the interest in traveling and stays at home, instead, working at a big Wallman's department store and making a documentary movie. She films everything in sight and soon picks up an odd little friend, twelve-year-old Bailey (Jenna Boyd), who quickly appoints herself as Tibby's assistant. The secrets of their personal lives make their relationship the most poignant of the four.
"The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" gets awfully sentimental at times, and a couple of gushy love songs don't help, but this is largely a romantic drama so expect it to be romanticized. The young people enter the summer confused about who they are what they want in life, and, of course, through their experiences they discover themselves. It's all a bit simplistic, but it's harmless enough and goes down smoothly. I rather enjoyed it.
Almost everything about the picture quality is top-notch. Warner Bros. transferred the image to disc in a wide anamorphic screen size, stretching to a measured ratio of about 2.17:1 across my television, using a high bit rate to ensure the deepest possible colors and the sharpest definition. The hues are very bright, yet they are reasonably natural for the tone of such a lightweight drama. Given the abundance of beautifully photographed scenery present, the picture is a pleasure to look at. I noticed some occasional moiré effects, shimmering lines, but it wasn't much.
As always, WB have retained the film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, and the sound does a superb job lending the music a pleasant ambient glow through the rear speakers. Otherwise, there isn't a lot to be said about it. The frequency and dynamic ranges are just wide enough to make their points in dialogue and musical backgrounds, and that's about all there is for the audio to do.
I can't say I was much taken by the various and predictable extras on the disc. They seem aimed, appropriately, at sixteen-year-old girls. First, there's "Fun on the Set," four minutes of behind-the-scenes jokes and laughter with the stars. Next, there's a rough cut of Tibby and Bailey's documentary, "Suckumentary," six minutes long, that I found most entertaining. After that is a nine-minute "Conversation with author Ann Brashares," which plays more like another behind-the-scenes featurette than a real conversation or interview. Then, there are about seven minutes of additional scenes, with optional commentary by director Ken Kwapis. The interesting thing I learned here was that the Baja, California, scenes were actually shot in British Columbia; this is followed by seventeen minutes of chat ("Sisters, Secrets, and the Traveling Pants") from three of the four stars (Blake Lively couldn't make it) about selected scenes in the movie.
The extras conclude with a widescreen theatrical trailer; thirty-five scene selections, but no chapter insert; English and French spoken languages; and English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
"Parents screw up," says Tibby. "It's what they're good at." I was always amazed during the four decades I taught high school at how well most young people adjusted to life despite the careless indifference or the downright hostility of their parents. In "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," the four main characters' togetherness and love for one another help them maintain a steady course in life. The movie may be overly simplistic in presenting such an obvious theme, but sometimes people miss the most obvious things and have to have matters laid out for them in a simple and orderly manner. "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" makes its truths plain...in the very best sense.