Perfect Fit

The appeal of Alexis Bledel is her authenticity-real girls have quirks.

By Leo Charney
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Oct. 5, 2005

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The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
Includes: Behind-the-scenes featurette, commentary on
selected scenes, interview with Ann Brashares, and more.
You'll Like It If You Like: Teen girl movies, coming-of-age stories, chick flicks, Alexis Bledel, Amber Tamblyn.


I'm still trying to figure out Alexis Bledel. The smart, hyper-verbal teen of TV's Gilmore Girls plays a smart but quieter girl in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, the intelligent and appealing teen movie new to DVD on Oct. 11.

Skinny as a hungry whippet, Bledel looks like Audrey Hepburn and talks like Katharine Hepburn, but she's not really a good actress. She mumbles, rushes through her sentences, stresses odd words and sometimes sounds as stiff as a kindergartener in the school play.

In the pajama-party-style chat on this DVD, Bledel fades into the background next to her livelier co-stars: America Ferrera, the rebellious Latina teen of HBO movie Real Women Have Curves, and Amber Tamblyn, the snarky wiseass of TV's Joan of Arcadia and General Hospital.

Adapted from the first book in Ann Brashares' popular series, Pants casts Bledel as pensive Lena, who spends the summer in picturesque Greece, where she meets a hunky boy and endures as much teen romance and Romeo and Juliet-style torment as her wooden expressions can deliver.

The story also follows Lena's friends, who share a pair of "traveling pants"-jeans that miraculously fit all four of them and that they mail around the world to each other. Tibby (Tamblyn) has a summer job in a superstore, makes a movie and meets a prickly little girl with leukemia; Carmen (Ferrera) visits her dad (The West Wing's Bradley Whitford), only to discover he's got a fiancee with two kids he never told her about; and Bridget (Blake Lively), a blond athlete, hopes to hook up with the studly coach at her Mexican soccer camp.

The pants are about as much connection as the four stories get. Director Ken Kwapis, whose experience is mostly in TV sitcoms, cuts unimaginatively among the plotlines, creating no energy or momentum beyond a daytime-drama-esque "now back to this character." (The DVD's great lost opportunity was to reassemble each girl's story as a continuous thread. And to explain how this ultimate chick flick wound up directed by a man-and one with almost no movie-directing experience.)

The editing's dull choppiness can make the movie feel like four after-school specials stitched together: First Love, First Sex, Dad's New Family and I Was Humanized by a Cute Dying Kid. It's all a little schematic, and the methodical editing makes each storyline feel rushed, like a restaurant-goer getting hustled away from their table to bring in the next party.

On the plus side, this "hurry up and get back to the other girls" structure means the movie packs in more story-and more diverse personalities-than your standard tweener movie. The film has the luxury (thanks to Brashares' novel, which it follows point for point) of spreading its character traits among four different heroines-who, not coincidentally, also appeal to four different demographics.

You get the heartbreak not just of one Lohan or Olsen, but of a Latina who can't fit into her bridesmaid's dress, a Laguna Beach-type blond whose beach sex wasn't what she expected, and smart girls Bledel and Tamblyn, who go through new experiences that push them out of their comfort zones.

It's easy to make fun of this kind of movie, but it's often teen-girl flicks-and their chick-flick older sisters-that are more in touch with dimensional characters and authentic emotions than their more mainstream counterparts. Maybe that's the appeal of Alexis Bledel in the end. She seems like a real girl-awkward and inarticulate, stumbling her way through her own emotions.

Warm Springs

Getting paralyzed by polio made Franklin Roosevelt a better man.

That's the odd lesson of this HBO movie about the ex-president, who fought polio in his 40s before being elected president in his early 50s. In this biopic he's a rich, shallow playboy who dabbled in politics but didn't believe in anything. His illness then gave him the depth of character and sympathy for the marginalized and oppressed to lead the country out of the Depression and through World War II.

Okay, this sounds like homework, and I thought so too-I avoided this film for months until it won the Emmy for best TV movie last month. Out on DVD for a few weeks now, it's actually not bad, if you can get past the "noble handicapped" premise, largely (as in most HBO projects) because of the great cast, who inhabit their Hallmarky roles with dry eyes and tart originality, as if these were new characters and not historical archetypes.

Kenneth Branagh's FDR is a self-pitying narcissist ready to drink himself to death until he discovers the mineral waters of Warm Springs, a resort that helps him regain some ability to walk. Cynthia Nixon's gawky Eleanor (complete with fake buck teeth) never gets over FDR's cheating on her, but she regains some respect for him when she sees how hard he's working to make himself better-once she bothers to visit him at all. Jane Alexander, as FDR's frightening mother, and Kathy Bates, as his no-nonsense physical therapist, also make their stereotypical characters flintier and more abrasive than you might expect.

Too long by a good half-hour, the movie still wins points for giving us a fresh look at people who'd seem ossified by hero-worship history. B

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