Amber Tamblyn as Tibby Tomko-Rollins
Alexis Bledel as Lena Kaligaris
America Ferrera as Carmen Lowell
Blake Lively as Bridget Vreeland
Rachel Nichols as Julia
Tom Wisdom as Ian
Leonardo Nam as Brian McBrian
Jesse Williams as Leo
Kyle MacLachlan as Peter
Shohreh Aghdashloo as Professor Nasrin Mehani
Blythe Danner as Greta
Michael Rady as Kostos
Lucy Hale as Effie
Rachel Ticotin as Carmen’s Mom
I’ll be honest up front, I’ve probably never been more bored in my life than I was during “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2,” but don’t let that discourage you. If young women-centric movies are your sort of thing you could do a lot worse. Sure it flirts shamelessly with melodrama, but always with the same eye for characterization that made the first “Traveling Pants” a good example of the genre.
If the first film was a standard (well done, but standard) coming-of-age story, the sequel is interested in the thornier question of what to do next. Director Sanaa Hamri, in her feature debut, has wisely decided to let the world move on in real time, allowing the girls of the first film to become young women in various stages of adulthood. It’s a much better fit for the actresses involved and it shows.
It hasn’t entirely shaken off its teenage fantasy roots, but it’s a studio film so that’s to be expected. That means the girls are each leading on-paper fabulous Ivy lives Tibby is a film student at NYU, Lena is in art school, Bridget is a soccer star at Brown, and narrator Carmen is at Yale. This sort of thing has a tendency to push my buttons personally, as it plays into a lot of writers’ apparent contempt of the middle class, the idea that anyone living that way is slowly dying from a life of quiet desperation. “Traveling Pants 2” certainly does, but that’s probably outside the conscious scope of the film.
On the other hand, that sort of success usually has its karmic price in these kinds of films in the form of personal turmoil and “Traveling Pants 2” does follow the genre playbook page by page. Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) and Lena (Alexis Bledel) are in the middle of major relationship upheavals while Carmen (America Ferrera) and Bridget (Blake Lively) deal with more complex identity issues. Needless to say a lot of angst is involved, but it never quite devolves into soap opera levels. That’s largely thanks to its actresses especially Tamblyn and Ferrera who are able to keep the material light and relatable even when dealing with its worst excesses.
It’s still got the same major weakness of the first film though, a general lack of focus. The first “Sisterhood” was about the girls efforts to stay connected despite approaching adulthood dragging them off in different directions. The sequel continues that line, but only lightly develops it. Carmen’s story is the only one that seems connected to it as she spends the summer at a drama camp she doesn’t want to be at in order to avoid thinking about the growing distance between herself and both her life long friends and mother, all of whom seem to be moving away from her. This is still an adolescent fantasy though, which means she’s surrounded by flat stereotypes instead of characters. People like director Peter (Kyle MacLachlan) the kind of man who wears his collars up, his glasses on his head, and quotes Shakespeare in his everyday speech and leading man Ian (Tom Wisdom). Naturally, because of some vague greatness they see in her and with no effort on her part, Carmen is cast as the lead in the play they’re putting on. It should be unbearably trite, and it’s thanks to Ferrera’s own natural ability that any of this flies at all.
Lena and Tibby get a little less fluff and little more angst as they deal with their respective relationship woes. They both revolve, to one degree or another, around sudden pregnancy as a symbol for adult responsibilities they’re still trying to avoid and regret for choices they didn’t fully understand. It sounds horrible but in execution it mostly works. Bledel is still trying to play Lena as wide-eyed innocent, but keeps coming up with slack jawed bore instead. Tamblyn on the other hand remakes Tibby the most affected, least compelling character in the group into almost a real person. It helps that her story this time around is solidly about her and how the things in her life actually affect her, but Tamblyn plays it well. But it’s Lively who gets the short end of the stick as she’s shunted off first to Turkey on an archeological internship, then Georgia on a quest for a grandmother she’s recently learned is still alive. She’s not connected to anything else in the film and often feels shoehorned in; as if everyone involved completely ran out of steam by the time they got to her.
Considering how many different strands she’s got, Hamri actually keeps the storytelling brisk without seriously jeopardizing characterization, which is a feat in itself. But a lot of it comes unraveled by the end, which suffers from an abundance of climaxes. More than it can really sustain, and none of them particularly well connected together. What you get at the end then is more of a finally than a finale and feeling that, despite its two hour running time, it’s about half an hour too long.
For the most part though, the strength’s of “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2” outweigh its weaknesses. Sure it falls into bad melodrama from time to time, but it also features some good performances and important themes that lend it more weight than it at first glance seems designed for. A sharper eye on developing the themes and characters, rather than the more surface oriented conflicts, might have produced a compelling character drama. As it is, “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2” is a good bit better than average and probably superior to its predecessor. And there aren’t many sequels that can say that.