I hope this doesn't come across as hopelessly girly, but sometimes a teen is more than just a teen. Sometimes, she's a unique opportunity for synergistic emotional branding across a broad spectrum of media platforms.
Written by Delia Ephron and Elizabeth Chandler, and directed by Ken Kwapis, "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" is based on a successful book series by 'tween author Ann Brashares, former co-president and editor of a leading teen "concepting" company.
Here, the concept is one-size-fits-all pants. Pants that accept, in other words. Pants that forgive.
At a thrift store, just before embarking on their respective summer vacations, four best friends from fetus-hood (their mothers met in a prenatal yoga class) discover a pair of Levi's that fit them all perfectly. Because the girls span the body-type rainbow from endomorph to ectomorph, they decide the pants must be magical and agree to share them over the summer via airmail.
Motherless Bridget (Blake Lively), a stunning blond soccer star looking for love in all the wrong places, goes off to soccer camp in Mexico; Lena (Alexis Bledel), a shy artist who keeps her hair and her feelings in a tight knot, departs for Greece; Tibby (Amber Tamblyn), an alienated surly type with blue streaks in her hair, stays home to work at the local mega store and finish her "suckumentary" on the banality of life; and chubby, insecure Carmen (America Ferrera), prepares to spend the summer with a twitchy Bradley Whitford, who plays the dad who left her and her mother when she was a kid.
Sure, in real life, these four would have stopped acknowledging one another's existence in middle school, but in the movie, they're reassuringly inseparable, doing things like break into the yoga studio where their moms met, light candles and write a pants-sharing manifesto as the camera does laps around them in the incandescent glow.
Over the course of the summer, the pants are repeatedly postmarked as Lena learns to relax and follow her heart, Mediterranean-style; Bridget learns to distinguish between love sex and neediness; Tibby learns that life is precious thanks to a tragic little girl (an adorably deadpan Jenna Boyd); and Carmen deals with her dad's big surprise. Whitford, meanwhile, acts as if he's been summoned to detonate a bomb while simultaneously sucking on a lemon and kicking heroin whenever he gets within five feet of Carmen. He looks uncomfortable, I mean. She's just so emotional.
Aimed at girls ages 9 to 15, "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" also displays excellent marksmanship in getting 'tweens of all ages and genders to sniffle audibly and hug in the dark (at least in the screening I attended). Having my heartstrings so relentlessly yanked made me want to just hand them over and get it over with, but "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" has its share of summery charms, including gorgeous postcard views of Santorini, an old-worldy Romeo-Juliet romance, and some particularly good performances by Tamblyn and Boyd. (I sort of wished the movie had just been about them.)
It's the girly equivalent of a midsummer Bruckheimer extravaganza -- a roller-coaster ride to the edge of total (emotional, natch) devastation that makes the happy ending that much more reassuring and cozy.
'The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants'
MPAA rating: PG for thematic elements, some sensuality and language.
Times guidelines: Some sex scenes.
Directed by Ken Kwapis. Based on the novel by Ann Brashares. Screenplay by Delia Ephron and Elizabeth Chandler. Produced by Debra Martin Chase, Denise DiNovi, Broderick Johnson, Andrew A. Kosove. Director of Photography John Bailey ASC. Production Designer Gae Buckley. Edited by Kathryn Himoff. Costume Designer Lisa Jensen. Music by Cliff Eidelman. Running Time: 1 hour, 59 minutes.