Artistic Tibby (Amber Tamblyn, "Joan of Arcadia"), shy Lena (Alexis Bledel, "Gilmore Girls"), hot-tempered Carmen (America Ferrera, "Real Women Have Curves"), and boy-crazy Bridget (newcomer Blake Lively) are four 16-year-old best friends about to embark on separate adventures over the summer. Finding a pair of jeans that magically fits them all perfectly, they pledge to share the pants with each other during their time away, believing the pants have powers that will bring them good fortune and happiness. As the summer progresses, each of the girls goes on an emotional journey, some through love, others through death and disappointment, that will alter their lives forever.
Adapted from the adored novel by Ann Brashares, "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" (IMDb listing) seems awfully reminiscent of "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood," except skewed younger for the Jesse McCartney generation. A film about the resilient nature of friendship, "Pants" is a mostly harmless concoction, which is a big part of its problem.
Directed by Ken Kwapis ("The Beautician and the Beast," "Dunston Checks In"), "Pants" is a flavorless experience that should please the target demo with its collection of boy-crazy girls and denim-enhanced themes of bonding. At first glance, this appears to be a routine sisterhood odyssey that offers no hope for inspiration. Soon enough, it's clear that this is symptomatic of Kwapis' direction, which lacks any distinct vision, and stops the film from blossoming to life. Handed a story with an episodic structure, Kwapis doesn't add much pizzazz to blend the stories together outside of a few show-offy transition shots. The friendship core of "Pants" is watered down in the process, and what should have been a barnstorming tween masterpiece comes across as featherweight, and at times, oddly insignificant.
Once the comedic and flavorless first half of the picture breaks away, "Pants" gets melodramatic and increasingly enjoyable. Unable to find the right tone throughout the entire film, Kwapis allows the picture to freefall into a flat-out tearjerker, which gives "Pants" much needed dramatic sustenance. Tibby's relationship with a fragile neighbor girl named Bailey (Jenna Boyd) becomes more immediate once it stops being comedic and begins to take on significance. And once Puerto-Rican-born Carmen decides to lash out at her father (Bradley Whitford) over his abandonment of her for a more WASPy family, this subplot finally steps away from the achingly dull and stereotypical Caucasians-are-boring, Latinos-have-life material the film relies way too much upon. Once the characters begin to experience legitimate emotional reactions, the popularity of the source material begins to make sense, and the film gets infinitely better and more involving. It's such a shame it takes so long to arrive there.
Kwapis' pedestrian direction would demolish this film without a good cast, but thankfully "Pants" is covered well in that area. The four leads are terrific, each with a very singular personality, as well as heaps of charm to get through the rough patches in the script. The standout is Amber Tamblyn as the regretful Tibby, who registers strongly with playful disappointment over her bleak vocational choice (a Wal-Mart type store) and eventual descent into friendship with Bailey and grief. I also enjoyed America Ferrera's spirited performance as Carmen. Ferrera instills the film with a small amount of the unpredictability that is sorely missing from the screenplay.
"Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" will be catnip for the core readership, but the possibility for this material to register more strongly with the senses nags the entire film. See it only for the performances from four actresses who are sure to do great things in their careers.
Filmfodder Grade: B-