Why make just ONE shamelessly manipulative chick-flick when you can cover all your bases by wedging four separate stories into one package? I mean, if you decide to make a movie about a teenaged Latino girl who finds it really difficult to fit in with her estranged father's broadly WASPy new family ... then how would you be able to include a subplot about a 17-year-old virgin girl who shares a forbidden romance while visiting her grandparents in Greece?
Frankly, you couldn't, which is why we have movies like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, which is to tweenage girls what Creepshow is to adolescent boys: You get your monthly requirement of all the important cliche groups, and with none of the muss or fuss that comes with actual storytelling, character development, or emotional investment.
As Sisterhood begins, our four plucky lasses come across a pair of jeans that (amazingly!) fits all four of their adolescent keesters. One gal's a willowy little princess, another is an eye-rollin' irony machine, one's a gorgeous blonde boy-tease, and the last is a somewhat plump Latino girl who exhibits both sass and moxie.
The gals are about to split up for the summer and temporarily go their separate ways, but they promise to share the jeans, so that something "SPECIAL!" can happen to each young lady on their vacation adventures.
Plot #1: Willowy princess girl goes to visit her kookily caricatured Greek grandparents, and falls madly in love with a hunky boy who hails from "the wrong family." (Dun dun DUNNnnnn!)
Plot #2: Eye-rollin' snarkmouth girl works at the equivalent of a Walmart, and oh-so-post-modernly decides to direct a documentary about the mouth-breathing podunk co-workers who aren't cool enough to share jeans with three giggling goofballs. But then a doe-eyed little blonde girl with leukemia decides to pop up, and the ever-frosty sarcasm-girl finds her heart warmed up in a hurry. (Sniffle.)
Plot #3: The gorgeous vampy blonde girl goes to a soccer camp in Baja, flirts hardcore with a dreamy young coach, and (slowly) learns the dangers of overt sluttery.
Plot #4: The somewhat plump but adorable Latino girl heads to South Carolina to visit her absentee father and his gleamingly white new family. It's here that our gal learns that characters written as garish and ridiculous "whitey" stereotypes can sometimes be, like, pretty cruel.
Director Ken Kwapis does very little to hide the fact that his screenplay is nothing more than a "catch-all" compendium of just about every single female-centric cliche, trope, stereotype, and convention ever concocted. If there's a fresh or unique emotion to be found in this movie, it must have been crushed beneath the avalanche of obviousness. Although the four young leads deliver some exceedingly fine work ... the quartet of actresses seem to be the only ones breaking a sweat here.
The titular pants are the connective tissue in this amazingly disjointed piece of stutter-step storytelling. Frankly the movie feels like four of the most familiar After-School Specials ever made, wedged into a blender that's set on "movie." Instead of each stand-alone story complementing the next, Sisterhood is more than content to read like a laundry list of lady stuff: Dreamy romance in sun-dappled Greece? Check! Lessons about how beauty is only skin-deep (but only if you look like a Loreal model)? Check! Being able to make that stingy old Daddy feel bad about ignoring me all those years? Check! How about ... learning not to sneer at the stupidity of life by meeting a lovely little girl who could drop dead at any moment? Yup, all here, and a whole lot more.
I freely admit that I just might be missing the boat here, as I am not (nor have I ever been) a teenage girl with magical jeans and three perfect gal-pals. But I'm more than able to recognize a story I've been told 1,432 times before, and I'm also real quick to pick up on a movie that doles out its mawkish little life lessons with the rhythm of a pink-colored metronome. I hear a whole lot of earnest and familiar lip service coming from the four Sisterhood gals, but I'm given very little reason to care about their rather pedantic exploits, nor am I able to figure out how four insincere mini-movies make for a better experience than one feature-length treacle-fest.
Again, it's the ladies who save the day: Alexis Bledel (The Gilmore Girls) and Amber Tamblyn (Joan of Arcadia) are pros by now, especially when dealing with such simple material. Newcomer Blake Lively manages to create a Barbie-blonde beauty who actually has some real character, and America Ferrara (Real Women Have Curves) steals the show, especially when you consider that her particular sub-plot is the most simplistically stupid one of all.
If you're a 15-year-old girl, you'll probably love the thing -- partially because it was tailor-made specifically for you, but mostly because you're still too young to realize that these jeans are stitched together from material that was considered old-hat when your own grandmother was a 15-year-old girl.
Video: The movie is presented in a perfectly sparkling Anamorphic Widescreen format. Picture quality is quite strong, even if the movie's directed with all the style of a Lifetime Channel Premiere.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, in your choice of English or French. Optional subtitles are available in English, Spanish, and French.
Fun On the Set is 5 minutes of the girls having some ... fun ... on the set.
Suckumentary is a rather interminable 8-minute extension of the already tiresome documentary that goth-girl shoots while working at Walmart.
Sisters, Secrets, and the Traveling Pants: A Video Commentary delivers Bledel, Tamblyn, and Ferrara as they sit on the floor, surrounded by candles & cookies, as they yammer and giggle over four or five scenes from the movie. As Martha Plimpton once said in the classic Stanley Kubrick film The Goonies: "I feel like I'm babysitting, except I'm not getting paid."
A Conversation with Ann Brashares is a 9-minute chat with the author of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Second Summer of the Sisterhood, Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood, and Pants of the Sister Summertravel, Girl!. The author seems genuinely thrilled that the cinematic adaptation was somehow able to capture the innate and wistful magic of her novel, and all this from the guy who directed Dunston Checks In, Vibes, The Beautician and the Beast, and Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird. Ms. Brashares, apparently intent on becoming the George Lucas of the training-bra set, promises even more adventures from the pants-loving pals.
You'll also get a collection of deleted scenes (with optional (and very nasal) commentary from the director) and the flick's original theatrical trailer.
I tried sharing a pair of pants with my high-school pals. I ended up with a rash and a nasty case of crabs. So clearly I'm not the intended demographic for this easily-digestible piece of gal-pal ooze, but I know pre-fabricated pap when I see it, and this one's packed to the gills with it.
Four strong performances from four young actresses aside, there's nothing here that you haven't seen before, done better, and with a lot more sincerity. The four-panel plot construction makes it easy for you to check off all the chicklet-flick cliches and conventions, but it doesn't really make for a smooth and satisfying piece of storytelling.