Thursday, April 8, 2010

Fiction to Film - Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants

The Fiction

Author: Anne Brashares
Publisher: Delacorte Press USA and Random House Australia
Length: 294 pages
Genre: Young Adult

Maryland teens Carmen, Bridget, Lena and Tibby have been best friends since birth (their mothers did pre-natal aerobics together) and are about to face their first summer apart. Carmen is visiting her absent father in South Carolina; Bridget is the starring player at soccer camp in Baja, Mexico; Lena stays with her grandparents in Greece; and Tibby's stays home for a summer job. The tie that is going to keep them together is a pair of pants - purchased by Carmen at a vintage store, which strangely fit all four girls perfectly. They decide to share the Pants (I feel like they should be a proper noun due to their importance in the story), travelling from girl to girl over the summer and bearing witness to a range of events, experiences and emotions.

The book is sweet, sincere, funny and touching. The characters are well-written, relatable and you truly share their individual (and collective) journeys.What I think I liked most about the whole series was the way it positively portrayed a strong sense of sisterhood and female friendship for a teenage reader (I do find a large portion of YA fiction seems to be more interested in frenemies and cliques).
So, I have some mixed feelings about this adaptation. Like Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, the Sisterhood series was one of my favourite books when I was in high school, so it again became the case of me being convinced that  everything in the books wouldn’t come out ‘right’ on the screen.

The Film
Director: Ken Kwapis
Screenwriter: Delia Ephron
Studio: Alcon Entertainment and Warner Brothers
Release Date: 2005

At the time the film came out (late June 2005 in Australia), I enjoyed it but didn't love it. Watching it again with a few years (and a degree in Cinema Studies) behind me, I now feel the filmmakers did a pretty good job at adapting a quite a difficult and heartfelt book with multiple plot threads and themes into a comprehensive (and sellable) film.

The four main characters are all pretty well cast. Delia Ephron has managed to pinpoint four fairly solid plotlines and successfully weave four seperate stories together. Most importantly, the film does capture the essence of the friendship and it is handled in a fairly realistic manner.
For a more comprehensive discussion and breakdown of the film vs the book, please keep reading below the cut (though there are spoilers for the both).

Carmen (America Ferrera) is film's narrator (she also functions as the unifying voice in the book, with her narrations opening and closing the text). She goes to South Carolina expecting to spend a summer with her divorced father (Bradley Whitford) - only to find out he's kept his upcoming marriage and new family from her. Carmen feels like the outcast amongst such a picture-perfect (and to be quite honest - rather bland) family and plans for an elaborate wedding limit change her plans for a summer with her father to herself. I think Carmen's story is probably the most relatable for the averge viewer - the fear of rejection, feeling like an outsider and craving attention and acceptance from their parents.

Carmen's story plays out in a fairly accurate adaptation from the text. Bradley Whitford certainly made Albert more likeable (and sympathetic - you truly feel he doesn't quite understand how he hurt Carmen) though I was disapointed with the 2D portrayals of Krista and Paul (Carmen's future step-siblings) who are used mostly for background decoration. They removed the eventual friendship and sense of understanding between Paul and Carmen, and completely eliminated Kelly/Skeletor - who I think would have made for an amusing character on-screen. I enjoyed Carmen's storyline up until the wedding scene (which slightly differs from the book) when her father calls her to join them at the altar mid ceremony - hmmm, just going a bit too far in the fake-sweetness department for me.

As this was only her third film role, I think America does a fantastic job playing Carmen. The plot relies heavily on her 'story' to give the film structure and she often at the emotional crux. The scene in which she finally breaks down and tells her father how hurt and angry she is, is heartbreaking (and surely the strength of her performance here helped with her casting - and subsequent Golden Globe win - for Ugly Betty only a year later).

Bridget (Blake Lively) leaves behind her silent, grieving father for all-girls soccer camp in Mexico. Whilst she shines on the field, she also falls hard for instructor, Eric. After sleeping with him (or least it is implied), she shrinks back and withdraws from her usually vibrant self. Suprisingly, the film version deals more with the death of Bridget's mother - which is quite hush-hush and only briefly dealt with (at least in the first book). This inclusion definitely aids the viewer in their understanding and reception of Bridget, though at times it is kind of awkward ("oh you know who would have loved this pizza? Your Mom" - deliberate attempt to bring up Bridget's unresolved grief and emotions). However, I did kind of wish Bridget's twin Perry had been included (or even mentioned), though I suppose he wasn't essential to the film's narrative.

I found Bridget (both in the book and on-screen, though probably more so in the later) kind of hard to take and relate to. I think it was more so Ephron's dialogue and handling of her plot which made her quite arrogant and show-offy, than Blake Lively's acting (which by the way, this was her first movie role). I also didn't really like the re-appearance of Eric in Maryland at the end (really? He flew all the way from Baja to Bethesda, Maryland just to apologise to Bridget and say "call me when your legal"? Hmmm no).

Unfortunately, no matter what she does, Alexis Bledel will always be Rory Gilmore to me. Fortunately for her, there are a number of similarities between Rory and Lena. Lena in the most demure of the girls, and who spends the summer in Greece. Her story is the one which most changes most noticeably from page to screen. In the book, Kostos is a family friend who after a series of misunderstandings and a summer of silently pining, Lena comes to realise she has feelings for him. The film plot is a lot more commercial and plays out well on screen. It's very Romeo and Juliet meets When In Rome (why yes, I did just make an Olsen Twins reference) as Lena falls in love with the city, her culture and Kostos. It was also nice to see Lena have a bit more of a personality and come out of her shell. Again, I missed the minor characters, especially that of Lena's sister Effie (who strangely enough, apparently plays a  significant role in the sequel).

Ahh, and finally Tibby (Amber Tamblyn)! She was always my favourite character in the books - I suppose as I could relate to her the most (the menial retail job, the interest in filmmaking, a slightly more than normal dose of teen angst). Unlike her friends, Tibby is stuck in Bethesda for the summer - babysitting her baby siblings, working at Wallmans and making her 'suck-umentary' about suburbia. Whilst at work, she is meets a smart and sassy twelve year-old, Bailey (Jenna Boyd) who becomes her camera assistant and friend.

There is a subtle change to the Tibby/Bailey relationship from the book - in which Tibby doesn't find out that Bailey has leukemia until quite later in the film (on page, it happens early on and shapes their relationship) and it works well with the pacing of their friendship on screen. The scenes in which Bailey and Tibby work on their film are some of my favourite ("when he was younger, Bill Gates ran a lemonade stand") and their banter is spot-on.

Ok, even if some scenes got a bit sappy (the scene in which Bailey says her fear is not of death but of time is set under the stars purely for emotional effect - and it totally works). I won't even mention the hospital scenes which still manage to melt my cold-cynical heart. Ephron and Kwapis make is sweet and touching and sad.
Ok, and now just a few random, un-organised thoughts:

I have to say that although I usually love a good flashback, they didn't really work in the film. I think it was the ages of the girls (which seemed to be off if you take into account other events in the narrative). Probably just me being super nitpicky as usual.

This scene, in which they find 'the Pants' has changed significantly from the book but works well on screen. But really, who changes their pants in the middle of a store (vintage or otherwise)??? That was weird.

Another scene invented for the film (I assume it's instead of the Lena/Bridget conversation towards the end of the book). It was nice and worked in allowing Bridget to come to terms with her mother's mental health issues and subsequent suicide, but also was slightly awkward (I mean her dog just happens to steal the Pants and run with them down the street and straight to Eric? Oh the magic of the movies!)

Towards the end, it did seem like there was a bit of a push to get all of the storylines resolved, but it all works out and ends neatly and leaves the viewer satisfied. The film is able to successfully capture a positive and supportive female friendship in a (fairly) realistic way. Despite a range of changes to the original plot and the removal of some narrative threads and minor characters, the film manages to encompass the overall feel-good nature of the successful YA series.

Side note: a sequel film, which wasn't written or directed by the original creative team, The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 2  was released in 2008 (straight to DVD in Australia - not usually a good sign). It somehow combines plots from the next three books (and sounds kind of like a mess - as those three words - straight to DVD - often seem to imply).

Sorry it took me so long to get this feature up again! I'm trying to get into a better writing schedule and will hopefully start posting more regularly.


Anonymous said...

I like this alot:)

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