One of the most underrated releases of last year was The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, an adaptation of the celebrated novel that retains the strengths of its source material while also taking advantage of the techniques that separate film from literature. The story of four girls (played by Amber Tamblyn, America Ferrera, Blake Lively and Alexis Bledel) coming of age over the course of a summer is aimed squarely at young audiences, but the film’s elegant visual style and sophisticated modulation of tone will be appreciated by filmmakers and film students.
Sisterhood is a collaboration between two masters of the wide-screen frame, director Ken Kwapis and cinematographer John Bailey, ASC (The Big Chill, The Accidental Tourist, Groundhog Day). Utilizing the anamorphic 2.40:1 frame, the filmmakers visually convey the characters’ friendships with long takes and careful compositions. Early scenes keep all four girls in the frame at the same time through blocking and camerawork, and the emphasis on composition over cutting creates a spatial unity that reinforces the intimacy between the characters. As the story progresses, the girls part company for various adventures, and the four very different locales in which they find themselves display a remarkable tonal range. Bailey has said that place is the fifth character in the film, and his use of the anamorphic format and long lenses brings the backgrounds close to the actors. The result is a series of sharp contrasts between the four storylines.
This excellent DVD transfer flawlessly captures the breadth of Bailey’s palette. For example, a sun-drenched soccer camp in Baja is dominated by yellows and browns, while the Greece sequences are characterized by blues and whites that echo Raoul Coutard’s work on Contempt (a film that served as a model for Kwapis in its combination of the intimate and the epic). Another European filmmaker, Michelangelo Antonioni, is recalled in the alienating environment surrounding a girl who spends the summer working at a Wal-Mart-style superstore. With each of these storylines, the filmmakers adopt not only different palettes but also different shooting styles; the Baja section features kinetic movement and crane work, whereas the superstore sequences are visually sterile.
The best of the DVD’s supplements is a collection of eight deleted scenes that add to our understanding of the issues explored in the film. Kwapis provides an enjoyable commentary for these scenes, which, unfortunately, only add up to about seven minutes of screen time. A feature-length commentary by Kwapis would have been a welcome addition to this disc. In lieu of that, we have the featurette “Sisters, Secrets and the Traveling Pants,” which shows Tamblyn, Ferrera and Bledel watching scenes from the movie on video and commenting on them. This might be entertaining for the film’s target audience, but it has little to offer mature viewers. The same is true of “Fun on the Set,” a brief and mostly pointless making-of documentary. The film’s theatrical trailer and an interview with Ann Brashares, author of the book, round out the extra features on the disc.