The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

(2005) *** Pg
113 min. Warner Brothers. Director: Ken Kwapis. Cast: Amber Tamblyn, Jenna Boyd, Blake Lively, America Ferrera, Alexis Bledel.

In plain black-and-white, the premise of Warner Brothers' cinematic adapation of Ann Brashares' young-adult chick-lit smash The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants—ideal for adolescent girls—will invite open derision from many adult females and males of all ages: in idyllic locations and conveniently paired with hottie boys, four best girlfriends discover themselves and bond more deeply by sharing not only a pair of pants, but a magical pair of pants. Pants agnosticism nothwithstanding, you'll likely find yourself drawn into the travails and triumphs of these four girls in this well-acted and mostly guiltless Hollywood dramedy.

America Ferrera (Real Women Have Curves), Alexis Bledel (Gilmore Girls), Amber Tamblyn (Joan of Arcadia), and newcomer Blake Lively play four friends who, despite their differences of personality and body type, share a pair of jeans that miraculously fit each girl perfectly. The girls separate for the summer, but send the pants around the world as a good-luck charm ("They make things happen").

Ferrera's bold, if neurotic, Carmen is off to South Carolina, where she must confront her feelings about her divorced father. Romantically forward and physically aggressive, Bridget (Lively) storms a Mexican soccer camp and stalks an older boy. Lena (Bledel) goes to picturesque Santorini, Greece, where she has a Titanic-styled forbidden romance (complete with sketching!), and Tamblyn's Tibby grumbles at home, where she shoots documentary footage when not living her life of retail clerking and quiet desperation.

Naturally, dutifully even, all four learn lessons, each of which would probably be insufferable for post-adolescents if the film were not so charmingly performed by the four up-and-coming stars. Tamblyn's laconic wit and underlying tenderness serve her well in her acting duet with a twelve-year-old mentee, Lively has the chops for the soccer and sex appeal, and Bledel's geeky charm suits her Grecian holiday.

Top honors, however, go to Ferrera, for her believably bipolar ability to mask raw emotions with saucy swagger; her emotional confession to Dad may be literally phoned in, but Ferrera converts probable bathos into prime pathos. (The emotional payoff for Tamblyn's storyline is the most hackneyed and unconvincing, but even it nearly makes it on performance alone.)

TV stalwart Ken Kwapis (The Larry Sanders Show, Malcolm in the Middle) finally scores a bona fide big-screen hit with this pretty-looking story of travel, adventure, romance, and girl-power. The sentiments don't plumb many depths or even necessarily hold up to scrutiny ("I don't know who I am, but I know who I want to be," explains Lena), but they grab the gut anyway, and often with a touch of complimentary good humor. The big screen is starved of family-friendly films for girls that don't drip with phony commercialism and pettiness of character; by comparison, Sisterhood is not only a class-act, but a godsend.

[For Groucho's interview with America Ferrera, click here.]

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