I am not now nor have I ever been a teenager girl, so I am necessarily distanced by age and gender from "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants." The book by Ann Brashares and the two sequels written to date are much beloved by teenage girls and despite the major and minor changes from the original novel (many of which were pointed out to me by my wife, who has read the book and took full advantage of a rare opportunity to inform me about the differences), it seems clear to me the movie has been embraced by them as well. Consequently, I have decided to take a different tact and consider this 2005 film adaptation by Delia Ephron and Elizabeth Chandler from the parental perspective. Young girls can tell us how the movie speaks to them, but how does "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" speak to adults?
The conceit of the story is that four teenage girls discover a pair of blue jeans that fits each of them perfectly, despite four totally different body types. Sensing magic at work and facing their first summer apart, the quartet draw up their sisterhood and its list of rules. The most important is that each girl gets to wear the pants for a week, and then they must send it on to the next girl on the list, including a letter detailing the most important thing that happened while wearing the pants. Then the girls are scattered to the four winds for their different experiences with the traveling pants, only two of which involve romantic entanglements.
Lena (Alexis Bledel) goes to the island of Santorini to visit her Greek grandparents. While wearing the pants she falls into the Aegean and is rescued by Kostos (Michael Rady). A shy, sensitive artist who is embarrassed by public displays of affection, Lena is smitten by Kostos, only to discover that their grandparents have a long-standing feud. Forbidden by her Yai Yai (Maria Konstandarou) to even look at the boy, Lena disobeys and has to appeal to her Papou (George Touliatos) to allow her to experience life. Being forbidden to love the one you love is a commonplace in teenager drama, going back well beyond "Romeo & Juliet," and it seems the idea that the prohibitions come from non-Americans (whether Europeans as in this case or immigrants as in others, to wit, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding") is becoming standard as well. This one is done pretty much by the numbers with the beautiful scenery seeking to cover up the fact this one is nothing new and most parents should recognize the idea that telling a young girl "no" is not that different from telling her "yes."
Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) is stuck at home and is spending her summer making a documentary on losers when she is not working put price stickers on items at Wallman's (gee, why does that sound familiar). Again her wishes she ends up with a 12-year-old assistant, Bailey (Jenna Boyd), and Tibby is the only one who does not see her introduction to Bailey as portending a sad ending. What I liked here is that they set up Bailey's secretive taping session as being the payoff for this relationship but it proves to be something else and the best evidence in the film of the magic power of the traveling pants. At the heart of this one of the biggest of life lessons, which is that you have to put your life in perspective and realize there are worst fates than your own.
Bridget (Blake Lively) goes off to a soccer camp in Baja and from the facts that she runs away from her mother's funeral and her disappointment that the camp is only for girls we are to deduce that Bridget is, to put it delicately, looking for trouble. She settles on one of the young coaches, Eric (Mike Vogel) and goes after him with the single-minded sense of determination and intensity that she displays on the soccer field. Bridget's motivation is really unclear (to those of us who did not read the book at least) and most parents will be somewhat horrified that things are able to go as far as they do here. The idea here is that the traveling pants help Bridget achieve her goal, although it is being unscathed in the aftermath that I find to be the greater blessing.
Carmen (America Ferrera in a strong followup to "Real Women Have Curves") travels to Charleston to spend the summer for some quality alone time with her dad, Al (Bradley Whitford), only to get totally blindsided. I pity the parent who does not look at Al without being horrified by what he is doing to his daughter, especially given his ability to make things worse. All of the sympathies here are with Carmen as insult is added to injury, and I liked the fact that she goes through a series of minor explosions that build to the big one. Pretending that your kids are not hurt and angry only makes them more of both, and the requisite happy ending here is small solace to my way of thinking, but I suppose it constitutes a start and I should be able to give a parent the benefit of the doubt.
The extras include the usual deleted scenes, a half-baked version of Tibby's documentary, an interview with Brashares, and a "video commentary" that has Bledel, Ferrera and Tamblyn sitting down in from of a VCR and a sea of munchies to comment on the film. Unfortunately they cover only a few key scenes in the film, but we do learn that Bledel did not subject her fair and freckled skin to the sun in Greece and that Tamblyn's dad must have made her watch "West Side Story" a whole bunch of times because she observes that the actor playing Kostos reminds her of a young George Chakiris.