- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 31, 2005

A title containing the word “sisterhood” is a safe indication a “chick flick” is in the offing, for better or worse, usually the latter. Indeed, “The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” three years ago was enough to justify a lifetime’s wariness. To my surprise, the new “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” proves a more tolerable immersion in the rites of femininity.

The advantage may be its concentration on a younger group of females. It’s easier to give the benefit of the doubt to relative newcomers playing a cross section of insecure teenagers than a batch of established actresses hamming it up as incorrigible cronies.

There’s also a local angle: The source material, a breakthrough best-seller in the juvenile market two years ago, was written by Ann Brashares, who grew up in Chevy Chase and went to Sidwell Friends School. The movie bases her principal characters in Bethesda while using Vancouver, British Columbia, as a double.

Four high school friends are separated during a summer vacation, obliging spectators to follow their activities in different locations. Golden girl Bridget (Blake Lively) attends a soccer camp in Baja California, where she showboats and attempts to seduce a college-age coach named Eric. Shy Lena (Alexis Bledel) vacations with grandparents on a sun-drenched Greek island (spectacularly showcased by cinematographer John Bailey) and acquires a sweetheart, a college guy named Kostos.

Sarcastic Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) remains at home, where she toils grudgingly at a store meant to caricature Wal-Mart and moonlights shooting footage for a video documentary. This project acquires a volunteer collaborator, Jenna Boyd as a pesky 12-year-old named Bailey, whose vulnerable health gives the plot an arbitrary but touching element of pathos.

Finally, suburban Hispanic Carmen (America Ferrera) fumes at the deception played upon her by a long-distance dad with a preposterous hairline (Bradley Whitford), who greets her with the news that he plans to remarry. That very summer. So she must meet the prospective stepmother (Nancy Travis) and her two youngsters, roughly contemporary with Carmen. Bitter from the outset, she loathes them all.

The “traveling pants” are a pair of jeans, purchased before the girls part. Incredibly, one pair fits all four of them perfectly. The girls agree to mail them back and forth during the summer as a potential lucky talisman, but if anything, the pants seem to be treacherous.

Lena almost drowns in them, and Bridget dons them in order to ravish Eric on a secluded beach. As far as I can see, letter exchanges would serve the purpose of simultaneously shifting locales and updating pals.

The plot devices never transcend triteness, and the changes of scene betray a failure to make much storytelling headway from one switch to the next. Nevertheless, the filmmakers are sincere about wanting to show off their co-stars. There are scenes that flatter every one of the five principals, if only in fits and starts. In addition, it doesn’t hurt to be in the viewfinder of a world-class cinematographer.

**

TITLE: “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”

RATING: PG (Fleeting vulgar dialogue and sexual allusions; episodes of family conflict)

CREDITS: Directed by Ken Kwapis. Screenplay by Delia Ephron and Elizabeth Chandler, based on the novel by Ann Brashares. Cinematography by John Bailey. Production design by Gae Buckley. Costume design by Lisa Jensen. Music by Cliff Eidelman

RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes

WEB SITE: https://sisterhoodofthetravelingpants.warnerbros.com/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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