One nice freedom about creating stories for young people is that clichés haven't become clichés for them yet. A girl can be introduced, say, collapsing in the aisle of a store, and the target audience won't immediately assume that she won't be making it all the way to the end of the story. Based on the first of a bestselling series of young-adult novels by Ann Brashares, The Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants assumes its audience hasn't been exposed to too many narrative conventions. Any film in which one of the least-contrived elements is a pair of self-esteem-improving pants that magically fits four differently shaped teenage girls needs a certain amount of blissful ignorance.
Alexis Bledel, America Ferrera, Amber Tamblyn, and Blake Lively play the teens, four best friends unhappily spending the summer apart. After discovering the aforementioned magical pants at a thrift store, they make a pact to send them to each other and then share the adventures they have while wearing them. From there, the film spins off into four different stories in which tears are shed, lessons are learned, and yes, pants are worn. Bledel, for instance, wears them in Greece, where a visit to her grandparents forces her to confront her boy-eschewing shyness and mend an old family feud. Tamblyn wears them while shooting a smart-ass documentary about life as an employee at a Wal-Mart-like superstore, a project that takes a less cynical turn when she befriends a girl afflicted with the kind of only-in-the-movies ailment that manifests solely at the most dramatically appropriate moments.
By the film's halfway point, the subplots have all started to head in the most obvious directions imaginable, which is too bad, since they all have real potential. Ferrera's story of spending the summer as an out-of-place ethnic element in the milk-white suburbs stays interesting the longest, in large part thanks to her performance. The open, magnetic star of Real Women Have Curves is able to suggest teen vulnerability with a glance and an insincere smile; hopefully, she'll someday find a role that doesn't reduce her to speechifying.
Sadly, this isn't it; all of Sisterhood's subplots rely on big moments that register as phony. Neither the script by Elizabeth Chandler and Delia Ephron nor the work of Dunston Checks In director Ken Kwapis seems interested in getting beyond the material's most superficial aspects: They raise challenging questions, then supply easy answers. They've got an all-star team of young acting talent, but they're only pitching softballs.