October 31, 2005

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants has all of the trappings of a flick for the preadolescent girl. Indeed, it services that market well. Those trappings give the movie structure, but fortunately for all of us, they do not give the film its soul.
Rarely have I seen a movie that so unabashedly celebrates the beauty of the human spirit, or the wonder of the world in which we all reside. It is not afraid of the darker side of the world either. In being compatible with the twelve-year-old psyche, it never peers too far down the dark alleys of our world, but there is a clear recognition that few of us really live in the sunlight world the Lizzie Maguires seem perpetually graced to inhabit. The supporting characters, like the video gamer at the local 7-11 type shop or the woman who inhabits the truth behind Wal*Mart's P.R. campaign, force us to stare at world that is cruel and unfair and seemingly dead end.
Then it does something truly amazing. It shines its light on these dismal prospects and unveils the extraordinary behind them. In doing so, the people aren't changed. Their threads and futures are much the same as they would have been had the movie never paid them much mind. The only thing that changes is our perception of them. There is love, there is loss, there is misery, heartache, and disappointment. The four girls experience all of these things and so do we, right in the stomach. But above all, the four girls experience hope. Things are no more perfect at the end of the film than at the beginning, but the people who must deal with the imperfection are more equipped to do so. This is a coming of age film in the most essential and central way.
It was not long ago that I reviewed The Weather Man, starring Nicholas Cage. Things were no worse in his life than these four girls'. And yet that movie preached that despair and disappointment and insurmountable, that love and hope are lost causes. The filmmakers of that movie need to meet a young girl named Bailey, who at twelve years of age already knew more about this world and humanity than all of them put together.
Nicholas Cage's character in that film needs to meet Bradley Whitford's in this one, whose failures as a father are far more damning and yet who learns over the course of a phone call that small fundamental gestures are far more powerful than grand empty ones.
Michael Caine's character in that film needs to meet Amber Tamblyn's in this film, and realize that to understand capture the world around you is not enough. At some point, you need to let go of your judgements and discover the beauty of imperfection and intent.
I can recall a few times when the Sisterhood made me cry. Tibby and Carmen's storylines are beautiful, and tragic, and pure. They pierce at the heart of what it is to love, to expose yourself and invest in another human being to such an extent that losing them can destroy everything about you. Bridget and Lena's are more pedestrian, and yet in their characters I found certain understated truths. In my review of the The Weather Man, I noted that "I do know that I look to cinema to show me something new, to inspire me or entertain me or challenge me." That film, for all of its artistry, provided me none of those things. And yet a movie about a pair of pants made me laugh, made my cry, made me smile, and made me think. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants made me reconsider how I view the world, and that is cinema at the very peak of its power. ()

  - ADAM LENHARDT

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