Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, a film now available on DVD. It's based on the book of the same name by Ann Brashares.

Sisterhood tells the story of four best friends, Lena, Tibby, Carmen, and Bridget and the miraculous pants that fits each one of them perfectly. There have been two sequels.

Sisterhood is a brilliant concept: four different girls with four different personalities and what happens to them during their sixteenth summer. It's like four books in one, and the movie works the same way. In a nutshell, Lena goes to Greece, where she discovers first love and also bonds with her Greek grandparents; Tibby is stuck at home, making a documentary and reluctantly befriending a 12 year old girl; Bridget is at soccer camp, crushing on a college age coach; and Carmen has gone to spend the summer with her divorced father's new family.

In both the book and the film, Lena's and Tibby's stories didn't do much for me. Carmen's and Bridget's stories, though, I found extremely compelling, realistic, and layered. (Which is why this is genius -- as long as a reader connects with at least one of the four stories, you have a fan. Bloody brilliant.)

Carmen's father is weak. No other way to describe it; the type of man who will say he loves his daughter; and no doubt, does love his daughter; yet does nothing, n-o-t-h-i-n-g to show or tell his daughter he loves her. To add insult to injury, he has stepped into the "dad role" in his "new" family, where to all outside appearances he is a loving father. (My ten bucks says that if he gets divorced again, he'll also emotionally abandon that family. He's the type that can be a Dad when someone else -- his wife -- makes it easy.)

After trying for several weeks, Carmen snaps, breaks a window in Dad's house, and runs back home. And here's where my blood boils. Tibby encourages Carmen to make the first move and call her father; Carmen responds that her father should be the one calling; and Tibby says, no. Carmen calls her father.

I'm with Carmen on this one. I hate, hate, hate, story lines where the child has to be the mature one -- the one reaching out -- while the parent is the immature one. Realistic? Sadly, it is a realistic situation. The teens in these situations have gotten a raw deal; but I think it adds insult to injury to say that the responsibility for a healthy relationship lies on the shoulder of the teen or kid. I think its unrealistic to give a Hallmark ending where the child's reaching out, by letter or phone call, ends in the parent changing. Because you know what? Nine out of ten times, the parent will say all the right things but the parent won't change. And the result is a kid who thinks that they are doing the wrong thing, it's all about them, if they had only called or said the right thing.... One of the reasons I LOVE Storky is that Mike realizes that how his father acts is about his father, not himself. I wish that Sisterhood had been clearer that the reason for Carmen to call and reach out to her father was not because it would "fix" the relationship, but because it was necessary for Carmen's peace of mind.

The other storyline that sticks with me is Bridget, because she's such an amazing mix of qualities. In the book, she had been the most "real", and in the movie, she steals the show. On the one hand, she's action girl, the soccer star, the leader. She's confident in her body and her sexuality; she aggressively goes after the soccer coach. On the other hand, she's still a child, who knows she has the body and the sexual attraction -- but once she gets what she wants, the coach, she doesn't know how to deal with the consequences. An interesting question to ask those who have read the book or seen the movie: what do you think happened between Bridget and the coach? The answers differ greatly. I know what I think.

Bridget's story, and my belief of what happens between Bridget and the coach, is why I think this is a great book for teens. It shows unintended consequences; it shows that wanting and getting are two very different things. For some reason, we've had girls as young as ten coming in to read this book. Given how Brashares handles the situation, they won't "get" what happened; but when they are older, and the situation will have more meaning for them, these girls will think that they already read this book; that it's a kid's book; and that is just sad. It's a perfect book for your teenaged daughter; not so much so for your fifth grader.

1 comment:

Debra Garfinkle said...

Thank you for your post. So well thought out.

I really liked the first two Pants books I've read. (Haven't read the third one yet.) And I liked the movie a lot. Ever since watching it, I've had a huge longing to go to Greece.

But I also hated when she reached out to her father and her father seemed to change because of it. Call me cynical, but sometimes parents are just lousy and it's not the kid's fault and there's nothing the kid can do about it except realize it's not the kid's fault.

This attitude probably stems from reading Parent Trap as a kid right after my parents separated and feeling guilty that I couldn't reunite my mom and dad like the kids in the book did. (I even tried to get sick to reunite my parents like Storky did. Very pathetic.) I read an interview with Robin Williams where he said he adamantly insisted that in Mrs. Doubtfire the parents couldn't get back together at the end. Yay Robin! Kids feel guilty enough when their parents are less than perfect. Books and movies shouldn't add to their guilt.

I also didn't like that in the movie the soccer coach came to Bridget's town and apologized. Call me cynical again, but usually what happens when a girl has a sort of one night stand with a guy, the guy doesn't follow her to her town to apologize. In the book, I think Bridget learned a valuable and realistic lesson about having respect for her body. In the movie, the lesson was made murky.

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