The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005)

Cynthia Fuchs

If its resolutions are at times too neat, the movie can also be refreshing, allowing the girls to be confused, perceptive, foolish, mad, and generous.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Director: Ken Kwapis
Cast: Amber Tamblyn, Alexis Bledel, America Ferrera, Blake Lively, Jenna Boyd, Bradley Whitford, Nancy Travis, Rachel Ticotin
MPAA rating: PG
Studio: Warner Bros.
First date: 2005
US Release Date: 2005-06-01

Engaging even when relegated to narrator, America Ferrera is the most compelling reason to see The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. (Plus, she deserves extra points for surviving an awesomely silly role in Lords of Dogtown.) The designated "aspiring writer" in this coming of age film, Ferrera's Carmen is alternately immature and admirably responsible, a girl getting to know herself, trust in her friends, and forgive the fallibility of adults.

Alternately sentimental and sensible, this story of four high school friends is for the most part respectful of the girls at its center and its presumed preteenish audience. Based on Ann Brashares' novel, Sisterhood is premised on a "magical" moment, as four girls, about to separate for the summer, wander into a thrift shop and discover a pair of blue jeans that fits all their different body sizes perfectly. This even though "big" girl Carmen resists even trying them on. And well she should, as they cling to the narrow butts of her three best friends -- Lena (Alexis Bledel), Tibby (Amber Tamblyn), and Bridget (Blake Lively). Still, the narrative's conceit is that the pants are flexible, and moreover, travel -- the girls mail them off to one another, and they appear to bring valuable experience to each girl in turn.

They mail the jeans to one another, along with letters to keep up with what's happening in each other's lives. During their vacations, they explore their emerging, individual independence, while also figuring out how to maintain relationships with their families and with each other.

Though the movie is structured as a series of episodes and the girls are introduced as types, these pieces also push against their overt limitations, with varying degrees of success. The story bits are laid out like this: shy Lena is sent off to Greece to visit relatives for the summer, where she meets a beautiful Greek Adonis sort, ideally suited for her difficult temperament and willing to educate her in the ways of sympathy for someone else, but rejected instantly by her family because of a long-running local feud. Golden girl Bridget is still grieving over her mother's suicide and feeling distanced from her father (played by Blake's real life father, Ernie Lively); heading off to Mexico for soccer camp, she acts out by pursuing one of her coaches, a lithe blond boyo who is supposed to be "off limits" to players (her antics occasionally go overboard, as when she pours water on her t-shirt to get his attention).

Tibby is an aspiring artist and documentary-maker, feeling particularly grumpy and resentful because unlike her friends, she's stuck working at a local Wal-Mart-type store for the summer. Tibby's artistic inclinations, combined with her anger, lead to a particular kind of self-expression, adjusted when she becomes friends with 12-year-old Bailey (Jenna Boyd). (At times, Bailey is quite annoyingly too precious; "What's a documentary?" she sets up Tibby, who answers, "Like a movie, only boring"). Determined to be Tibby's friend and to help her make her film, Bailey totes equipment unasked and whenever she's tagging along for a shoot, asks interview subjects compassionate questions that suggest her interest in what they have to say, quite unlike the gruff, mostly surly Tibby. As the subjects speak openly and feel comfortable with Bailey, Tibby is at first even more resentful, and eventually appreciative. That is, the lesson she learns has to do with generosity and love of life.

Like these other sections, Carmen's is partly contrived and partly serious. As she reports in her journal, she's spending the summer in North Carolina with her long-absent father Al (Bradley Whitford), who surprises her by announcing -- as soon as she arrives -- that she's staying with him and his fiancée, the very Southern, alarmingly self-involved stepmother prospect Lydia (Nancy Travis), whose two blond teens are posed as complete opposites of Carmen (her mother is played by the terrific and underused Rachel Ticotin).

Though she stifles her antipathy at first -- going so far as to be embarrassed and flustered at seeing Lydia's Spanish-speaking maid and insist that she can wash her own sheets -- Carmen's evolution leads her to self-expression. This first takes the form of a broken window (and her dad's complete inability to deal with her in any mature way -- his immersion in ultra-whiteness is ignorant at best, cruel at worst). But eventually, she's able to yell at him, over the phone, and it only seems right.

The movie is about learning to appreciate what's in front of you as well as new experiences. One of the characters (who is restricted to a particularly soapy plot), notes her fear of "time" passing: "I'm afraid of time," she says, "not having enough of it. I'm afraid of what I'll miss." But their most important lesson has to do with their mutual support and affection, which lasts over time. Where too many movies treat a girl's losing her virginity as a singularly traumatic or excessively romantic event, this one shows it as a difficult event from which she learns, recovers, and moves on. If its resolutions are at times too neat, the movie can also be refreshing, allowing the girls to be confused, perceptive, foolish, mad, and generous. Just like girls can be.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.