Film — The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (PG)

 

by Amy Diaz        adiaz@hippopress.com

 

Four girls spend their summer traveling to new places, learning new things and being not nearly as annoying as those activities would imply in Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, a big girly hug of a movie.

For those who think actors don’t matter, I submit The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Filled with Hilary Duffs and Mandy Moores, I do believe this movie would have had me crying tears of blood and banging my head against the theater floor to make the saccharine-induced pain stop. (But, like extras in an Allegra commercial, perhaps I have a heightened sensitivity to the pollen-like allergens of cuteness.) But with Alexis Bledel (of Gilmore Girls), Amber Tamblyn (of Joan of Arcadia), Blake Lively (of, well, nothing) and especially the ass-kicking (in a charming way) America Ferrera (of Real Women Have Curves), The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants becomes such an honest, engaging little movie that you can forgive its occasional dips in the frothier end of the Oprah-pool. Yes, the girls sit in a circle and make pledges to each other, yes there’s some group hugging — but the story between all these bits of sentimentality is just a big loveable cupcake.

See, the girls — Tibby (Tamblyn), Lena (Bledel), Carmen (Ferrera) and Bridget (Lively) — have been friends forever, comforting each other through divorces and the death of parents. And now, during a summer in their middle teens, the girls stare down a long three months without each other. Bridget, whose mom recently committed suicide, is off to Mexico to a soccer camp. Lena is bound for the idyllic island in Greece where her grandparents live. Carmen is headed to the South Carolina suburbs where she expects to spend a summer with her father (who she’s seen only a handful of times since her parents divorced). And then there’s Tibby, stuck in the girls’ hometown of Bethesda working at a Wal-Mart-like store and making what she calls her “suckumentary” about the despair of her young life. Holding them together through this time of adventure will be a pair of vintage jeans which, impossibly, fits them all — from the tall Bridget to the, er, Puerto Rican Carmen. (Being of the hips-and-butt-having Latin ethnicity myself, I assure you that is a real miracle of physics.) They agree to each wear the jeans a week and then pass them off to another girl with a letter detailing what happened.

Lena’s adventure involves the shy artist’s involvement with a local Greek boy. Their gentle romance brings her out of her shell, even as it seems to upset her very traditional family for reasons she doesn’t understand.  Bridget’s romance is less shy — she all but pounces on the slightly-older-than-her coach running the camp. But, always in motion, Bridget’s feelings for the boy seem to have less to do with him and more to do with her own sadness and fear.

Back home, Tibby darkly snarks through her days of affixing price stickers and shooting footage for her movies until she meets Bailey (Jenna Boyd), a sweet 12-year-old who adopts the unwilling Tibby as her older sister.

Of all the stories, however, the most interesting belongs to Carmen. Arriving at her dad’s house, she finds out that he has a very blond and Anglo fiancée who has very blond and Anglo children and that her dad is very much enjoying being the dad of this new family. Rejection, fear and anger clash as Carmen tries to decide what to make of the life her father has constructed entirely without her.

Ferrera is a remarkable actress — genuine and radiantly beautiful not in spite of her full figure but because she’s allowed to be chubby and cute with no apologies. Though other stories deal with death and loss, Carmen’s is the strongest and goes the deepest with a scene where Carmen finally talks to her father about her feelings toward him. It’s the kind of thing that, in the hands of a lesser actress, would have been a soppy mess. But with the sparkling Ferrera, we don’t grit our teeth through it; we believe her.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants probably won’t have many male viewers or much of an audience with anyone over 18 but its intended crowd really couldn’t ask for a better adaptation of the book.

 
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