In true Venus/Mars fashion, men will likely never understand women and why they travel to restrooms together, can let a torrent of tears pour over a greeting card message, love chick flicks, or are so interested in clothing that it becomes something of an obsession for them.
Being one of the "Martians," I wasn't expecting much from "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants." After all, this adaptation of Ann Brashares' popular novel of the same name looked like a junior version of "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood." That is, it seemed it would be a melodramatic tale of teenage girls, the magical pair of jeans that fits them all and the strong likelihood of maudlin, tearjerker moments and plenty of weepy group hugs.
I'm happy to report that while bits and pieces of all of that and more are present (which would usually send us Martians fleeing for our spaceships back to our testosterone stronghold), the film surprisingly turns out to be a fairly well made, engaging and entertaining chick flick that the ladies will love and even those in touch with their feminine side may just like.
That said, let's first get the problems out of the way. I'm sure the one size fits all jeans issue may have worked in the book where one's imagination could make that denim fit those varying bodies. Yet, it's less successful and certainly less believable on the screen where such "magic" seems entirely out of place with the rest of the story. I understand it's all symbolic, but it's unnecessary, somewhat cheapens the film a bit and should have been reconfigured in some way to avoid the goofy and seemingly supernatural (but not scary) results.
Then there's the issue of the four main characters who feel a bit too much like purposefully diverse stereotypes rather than a naturally occurring set of friends (although that has nothing to do with the solid to strong performances by those inhabiting them).
And director Ken Kwapis, who works from Della Ephron and Elizabeth Chandler's adaptation of Brashares' original words, runs the risk of turning the effort into an episodic affair with all of the start and stop momentum. You see, rather than sticking with one character and her one-week turn with those magical jeans (they wear them for that period before shipping them off to the next recipient), the filmmakers constantly alternate between the characters who are spread out across the globe.
While that keeps all of them in the viewer's eye and mind (which I'm guessing was done for the target audience of young girls), the constant switching does stymie any building dramatic momentum and gives the film something of a disjointed structure.
Then there are the maudlin moments and tearjerker material that seem to go hand in hand with this sort of tale. I won't go into the specifics of what happens to whom, but let's just say the box of tissues should be ready for those most susceptible to such manipulative material.
While all of that may make the film sound horrible or at least plagued with too many problems, the performances from the leads - and the stories in which they appear - save the day. And that's where the earlier mentioned character diversification works to the film's advantage.
This easily could have become repetitive in telling the same basic subplot story times four, but the different stories - that actually have some teeth and depth to them, let the young actresses shine. Whether it's Amber Tamblyn getting a life lesson from young Jenna Boyd; Alexis Bledel getting to blossom while dealing with intolerance; Blake Lively learning that going all of the way isn't all that it's cut out to be; or America Ferrera having to come to grips with her shallow father played by Bradley Whitford, all of the girls stand out in their respective roles. By creating engaging and sympathetic characters, they draw the viewer into their stories and the overall picture and help make one overlook, ignore or at least accept the film's various minor flaws.
While clearly not for all viewers ("manly" men will probably still run for the hills), this is a palatable "chick flick" for the younger set that viewers such as yours truly (who falls way out of the target demographic) actually enjoyed and thought was decently done.