It’s fitting that the name Ya Ya (okay, it’s spelled Yia Yia) appears in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, as director Ken Kwapis’s ode to female camaraderie is the tween parallel—thematically if not narratively—to Rebecca Wells’s bestselling Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (and the 2002 screen adaptation starring Sandra Bullock and Ashley Judd). Based on Ann Brashares’s book, this pubescent Sisterhood follows four lifelong friends—timid Lena (Alexis Bledel), morose Tibby (Amber Tamblyn), sexpot Bridget (Blake Lively), and writer Carmen (America Ferrera)—as they separate over summer vacation but stay in touch by sharing, via mail, a pair of blue jeans that magically fits all of them perfectly. With their supernatural pantalones’ help, the girls each receive their own custom-made coming-of-age episode, from Lena’s Romeo and Juliet-style romance with a forbidden fisherman in Greece to Carmen’s long-pent-up explosion of anger at her divorced father Al (Bradley Whitford), who’s now planning to marry a suburban whitebread woman (Nancy Travis) nothing like Carmen’s Hispanic mom. Kwapis intercuts between his four stories with an eye toward manipulative button-pushing, but if his film stretches the boundaries of tolerable sentimentality—Tibby’s unexpected, life-affirming relationship with talkative pest Bailey (Jenna Boyd) being the primary culprit—it also offers a positive, heterogeneous portrait of teenage femininity. In the clothing store where the jeans are first discovered, the sight of thin, leggy Bridget in her panties is immediately followed by a similar image of the more rotund Carmen sans pants, an example of how Traveling Pants subtly celebrates womanhood’s all-shapes-and-sizes diversity while also touching on the commonality of youthful experiences (first love, death, betrayal). Given its frank treatment of issues such as suicide and cultural denial—as seen in Al’s desire to negate any trace of Latino color from his new, squeaky clean life—it’s too bad the film gets weighed down by Tibby, a second-rate photocopy of Thora Birch’s Ghost World goth who’s mired in the story’s most Afterschool Special-ish segment. Yet even considering its predetermined happy endings, the film’s acknowledgement that growing up often requires coming to terms with loss results in a mature, untidy view of adolescence.
The film's opening images of spinning thread-with its gorgeous brown hues and fine textures-wouldn't be out of place in a Peter Greenaway film, like, say The Pillow Book. No other image in the film is as lush as these but they're every bit as pristine. Audio is okay: the surround work is active and the score resonates nicely, but the dialogue often sounds as if its being stifled by everything that's going on.
Slim pickings: a 5-minute "Fun on the Set" behind-the-scenes featurette; a rough cut of Tibby and Bailey's "Sockumentary"; a 17-minute video commentary with Amber Tamblyn, America Ferrera, and Alexis Bledel (Blake Lively chimes in via cellphone); a nine-minute interview with author Ann Brashares; a half-dozen deleted scenes with optional director commentary; and a theatrical trailer.
There's no way America Ferrera and Amber Tamblyn could ever fit into the same pair of jeans, but the film's positive portrait of teenage femininity is otherwise honest and mature.