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Photograph by Diya Pena

Forever Amber: Arcadia's Joan (Amber Tamblyn) shares the legwear in 'The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.'

The Pants Recaptured

Trou for one, one for trou: 'The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants' hits the screen

By Richard von Busack

IF DRAGGED to this by a date, a daughter or a little sister, a guy won't suffer. True, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants can be audaciously corny, such as the sequence of a childhood cancer patient that squishes in as many life-affirming homilies as one video diary could hold. The book's success is due to the fact it has sweep, multiple locations and multiple points of view. The hook of the tale is sturdy and has been working since Gogol's The Overcoat. The narrative is about a pair of jeans found in a boutique that fits four girls perfectly. The four, split up by travel plans, spend their 16th summer FedExing the pants among themselves. Supposedly, there are already copycat Levis-swapping groups in our high schools.

Happily, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants isn't about the unimpeachable rightness of teenagers. America Ferrera's Carmen—furious at her parents' divorce and stuck with her dad's new family all summer—is angrier than she ought to be. The chunky Ferrera, no great shakes in Real Women Have Curves, makes an impression here; if you're not cute in the conventional way, you have to try harder as an actress. The thoughtless athletic exuberance of the blonde, long-legged soccer champ Bridget (Blake Lively) keeps her from being dislikable. She's not meant to be a deep one; she's there because of the way she looks running across a beach. The artsy girl, Lena (Alexis Bledel), spends the summer in Greece with her villager grandparents. Her work shows promise, but she's not the next Michelangelo, which is usually how a teen artist is presented in a film for girls.

Particularly promising but underdone are the scenes in a Bethesda "Wallman's" superstore, where Tibby (Amber Tamblyn of Joan of Arcadia) wears a nylon vest all summer to help pay for her documentary. A waitress, hearing that Tibby is working on a documentary, gets the idea: "Like a movie, only boring." Tibby's documentary never receives the personal touch until she meets a new friend, an abrasive younger neighbor named Bailey (Jenna Boyd, good under the 7th Heavenish circumstances).

Director Ken Kwapis has worked on the shrewder sitcoms, such as Malcolm in the Middle and Grounded for Life. The rhythms of the dialogue are quick, if never greatly comic. And even if the four actresses don't really all fit together, Kwapis cuts between the stories with relative ease. The seascapes are old-Hollywood gorgeous, especially the azure coastline and whitewashed fishing villages in Greece. The use of color is also keen in the WASP wedding sequences, where Carmen is humiliated. Everything in the cold suburban home—including the people—gives off a dull ivory glow, like a white, plastic bleach bottle under fluorescent lights. The film almost all works, but the last half-hour of reconciliation and apology is a neat-freak's dream. It's like a movie, only boring.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (PG; 120 min.), directed by Ken Kwapis, written by Delia Ephron and Elizabeth Chandler, based on the novel by Ann Brashares, photographed by John Bailey and starring Ambery Tamblyn, America Ferrera and Alexis Bledel, plays valleywide.

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Web extra to the June 1-7, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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