THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS – Cliff Eidelman
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Every time I see Cliff Eidelman’s name on a poster or a press release for a new film, I hope beyond hope that, finally, this could be film which rekindles the embers of a career which shone so brightly in the early 1990s, but which have in recent years been little more than a dim glow. Since his magnificent entrance into the film music world, Eidelman has gradually been slipping beneath the film music radar, ignored by the Hollywood mainstream and having to be content with scraps from the big league table, and the faith of independent directors who recognize – or remember – his immense talent. Of late he has fallen foul of that terrible composers’ curse, being pigeonholed as a “chick flick” man, whose remit is to write variations on the dreaded “sensitive piano theme”. Such is the case with The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
Conceptually, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is almost identical to a film which Eidelman scored in 1996, Now and Then. In it, four teenage friends – played by Amber Tamblyn, Alexis Bledel, America Ferrara and Blake Lively – make a pact with each other to remain “connected” even as they go their separate ways during one long, hot summer. They do this by way of a pair of magical denim jeans, which fit each girl perfectly even though they are different shapes and sizes, and which they agree must be passed on between them, along with letters detailing their adventures. As the four experience life apart for the first time (one on holiday in Greece, one visiting her father in South Carolina, one on a soccer camp in Mexico, the other in their hometown), the pants accompany their initial adventures into the wider world of love, friendship and adulthood. The film is based on a popular novel by Ann Brashares and is directed by TV veteran Ken Kwapis, the man behind such classic efforts as Dunston Checks In and Vibes, and who previously worked with Eidelman on The Beautician and the Beast in 1997.
As lovely and delicate as it is, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is something of a disappointment because, for all intents and purposes, it has no substance to speak of. Written for a small, intimate orchestra with special emphasis on warm strings, sentimental woodwinds, and twinkly ‘sensitive’ pianos, Eidelman’s score is nothing if not attractive. There’s a light daintiness to the whole affair, as though Eidelman was conscious of not wanting to pour musical treacle over an already fairly saccharine film, and he is talented enough to ensure that his music is never anything less than appropriate – indeed, many cues do leave a generally positive impression.
The 4-minute “Prologue” presents the score’s main thematic ideas in quick succession, beginning with a pleasant string melody, and going on to encompass upbeat moments of comedy and light-heartedness, perky solo pianos, quirky stand-up bass jazz, and generally wholesome Americana. The pants themselves receive a sweet, vaguely comical leitmotif for xylophones in “Rules of the Pants”, “The Traveling Pants” and the other trouser-related tracks. The sun-kissed romance of the Aegean is depicted by a somewhat predictable mandolin and accordion combo in “A Touch of Greece” and “Running”, while other cues such as “Letter”, “Last Words” and “Us” feature lovely bittersweet orchestrations, notably for solo cello, piano and acoustic guitar.
However, arguably the most attractive parts of the score are the dreamy performances of Lili Haydn, whose ethereal vocals add a sense of magic to “Fate”, “The Way of the Pants”, and whose evocative violin playing makes “The Traveling Song” the loveliest cue on the album.
The problem, however, is that despite Eidelman’s skill in creating this aura of gentle whimsy, a million composers have written a million scores like this over the years, and there is nothing outstanding enough about The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants to really make anyone sit up and take notice, or to make it stand out from the crowd. Even as you’re listening to the CD, you can feel the preceding cue falling out of the back of your brain, remaining agreeable, but steadfastly refusing to be memorable. It’s pleasant background music, nothing more, and one would assume that in the context of the film it plays second fiddle to the plethora of pop songs which litter the soundtrack and the more widely-available commercial CD release.
The irony of all this is that Eidelman’s last major score, The Lizzie McGuire Movie, was both an inconsequential chick flick, and one of his biggest grossing hits to date, having taken over $43 million at the US box office alone. As a result, and unless someone gives him the chance to prove otherwise, the odds of him continuing to write ‘sensitive piano themes’ for films like these are pretty high.
- Prologue (3:44)
- Déjà Blue (1:04)
- Fate (1:01)
- Rules of the Pants (3:26)
- A Touch of Greece (1:18)
- Honey (1:10)
- The Traveling Pants (0:53)
- Reflection (2:07)
- Running (1:26)
- Traveling to Baja (0:39)
- The Way of the Pants (0:34)
- Letter (1:48)
- Broken Heart (1:16)
- A Brave Soul (1:15)
- Last Words (0:58)
- Us (2:18)
- Sisterhood Reunites (1:14)
- Together (1:29)
- The Traveling Song (3:17)
- Piano Suite (4:03)
Running Time: 35 minutes 25 seconds
Varèse Sarabande VSD-6665 (2005)
Music composed and conducted by Cliff Eidelman. Orchestrations by Penka Kouneva Schweiger. Special violin and vocal performances by Lili Haydn. Recorded and mixed by Armin Steiner. Edited by Todd Bozung. Mastered by Erick Labson. Album produced by Cliff Eidelman and Dawn Solér.