The four gal pals at the good heart of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants live comfortable middle-class lives in suburban Maryland, and they've sort of been friends since before birth, when their mothers met at an aerobics class for pregnant women (the girls didn't know each other as sperm or egg). But now it's the summer after their junior year in high school, and each has a different place to be. So to stay connected, they agree to share (via U.S. Mail and Fed Ex) a pair of denim blue jeans that magically fits all four of their very different shapes.
Lena (Alexis Bledel of TV's Gilmore Girls) is the shy artist with no figure who travels to Greece to spend time with her old-world relatives (grandpa owns two burros and lives on a seaside precipice). Tibby (Amber Tamblyn of TV's Joan of Arcadia), whose raven hair is streaked with navy blue, is a budding documentary filmmaker working as a stock girl at the local "Wallmanns" discount retail store. Bridget (Blake Lively), the tall athletic blonde who lost her mother to suicide, travels to Mexico for soccer camp. And Carmen (America Ferrera), the voluptuous girl with a Puerto Rican mother, goes to South Carolina to reconnect with her absent Anglo dad (Bradley Whitford of The West Wing), who has a bubbly new wife and two all-American stepchildren.
The problems they encounter have mostly to do with the ancient Big Three of Teen Angst -- untimely death, acrimonious divorce and handsome boys -- rather than more contemporary issues, such as eating disorders, college applications and friends with benefits. Still, what could have been cheesy or sugary turns out to be, if not exactly health food, then at least an entertaining little movie that won't rot your teeth. Traveling Pants balances its tones and emotions, and its four young stars -- plus a 12-year-old fifth wheel, played by a wonderfully droll Jenna Boyd -- give unusually comfortable and appealing performances.
Director Ken Kwapis, who has mostly done episodic TV, moves back and forth often between the four stories. This permits him to moderate the pace of each individual scene without losing the attention of an impatient audience. Delia Ephron's screenplay, adapting Ann Brashares' novel, takes many dramatic short cuts, including any realistic talk about sex. But that's par for an edifying slice of Hollywood summer escapist cinema, with messages about being yourself, finding your passion, and not worrying too much if you don't have it all figured out by age 17 -- although, of course, the girls do manage to figure out a lot of stuff. Its only bad lesson is grammatical: a hand-made sign on one girl's bedroom wall reads, "This weeks birthdays." Whoever wrote that should have to stay after the movie and clean the erasers.
I almost hate to predict, so early in their careers, what will happen to these young actors: It's a little like being a fraternity guy on a Saturday night, looking over the sorority prey from the second-floor balcony. But here goes: Bledel, who has a faint air of sullen eroticism, will probably take sexually provocative roles when she graduates from playing teens; Tamblyn, who has a striking face and strong physique, will play edgy, brainy roles (she reminds me of Sela Ward); Lively, the blonde, probably won't get too far; and Ferrera, a fine young actress and a radiant young woman, will struggle to find a place because she's chosen a profession that doesn't have much to offer you if you're full-figured and off-white.