After spending the prior summer apart before their first year of college, Carmen (America Ferrera, TV's "Ugly Betty") is convinced her friends would be upset if she took advantage of an invite to spend the summer with a Vermont theater company, but just like in the first film, the four girls will all go their separate ways, keeping touch through a magical pair of jeans in "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2."
Taking over from Ken Kwapis, debuting feature director Sanaa Hamri follows the formula and smooths out some edges along the way. The series has been shortened, Elizabeth Chandler's ("The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants") screenplay an adaptation of Ann Brashares novel, "Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood," and yet each of the four girls continue to face the same issues as in the prior film. Still, this is a solid movie for its demographic and everything falls into place a little more quickly the second time around.
Once again, Carmen is our narrator and the one holding most tightly to tradition. Last time around, she was facing her dad's nuptials. Now mom's remarried, is expecting and moving house, but when Carmen looks for a stable summer, she discovers that Tibby (Amber Tamblyn, "Stephanie Daley") must return to New York City to complete a screenplay at NYU, Bridget (Blake Lively, TV's "Gossip Girls") has been accepted to an archeological camp in Turkey and Lena (Alexis Bledel, TV's "The Gilmore Girls") has signed up for a figure drawing class at RISD to get over the heartbreak of discovering Kostas (Michael Rady, TV's "Swingtown") has gotten married. Carmen gets the girls to promise that the jeans will be sent around in the same rotation and takes up college friend Julia's (Rachel Nichols, "The Amityville Horror" remake, "P2") offer to join her in Vermont.
Carmen will learn a lesson about self esteem when she meets British actor Ian (Tom Wisdom, "300") and wins the lead in Shakespeare's "A Winter's Tale" with his support, only to have him seemingly prefer Julia's company. Celebrating an anniversary, Tibby decides to go all the way with Brian (Leonardo Nam, "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift," "Vantage Point"), but their first sexual encounter is marred by a broken condom causing Tibby to retreat back into her shell. Tomboy Bridget unearths ancient skeletons in Turkey but discussions with Professor Mehani (Shohreh Aghdashloo, The House of Sand and Fog") and the recent discovery that her dad (Blake's real life dad, Ernie Lively) hid letters from her grandmother Greta (Blythe Danner, "Meet the Fockers") makes her realize she has a more personal past to unearth. At her new art class, Lena is unsettled when nude art model Leo (Jesse Williams) takes an interest in her but must search her heart when she discovers what she wants in life probably won't be found on this new path.
The film is pretty much a boilerplate of the first, but introduces some conflicts among the friendships which are being maintained more sketchily. When Bridget leaves Turkey for Greta's house in Alabama, Tibby gets the pants back, breaking the chain (the pants will suffer an even more dire fate when Lena's sister Effie (Lucy Hale, TV's "Bionic Woman"), jealous of the girls' closeness, hijacks them to Greece). But despite growing up and technology gaining on more personal means of communication, the bond among these four girls is still strong. A breach between Carmen and Tibby is joyfully healed, and the two conspire with Bridget to set Lena back on romantic track (these girls do seem to travel a lot, but at least mention is made of a gifting of frequent flier miles to explain the final, group trip to Greece).
Amber Tamblyn continues to be the series standout (her morning after montage is amusing), although America Ferrera gains with a much stronger and more sympathetic story thread from the first film. Ferrera also benefits from the best support among the new additions. Wisdom is utterly charming as Ian, Nichols is two-faced but also somewhat sympathetic and Kyle MacLachlan's (HBO's "Sex and the City") theater director is a hammy hoot. Alexis Bledel's Lena falls somewhere between shy and anemic. Lively deserved something resembling a romantic interest this time around.
Production values are sound, with all of the girls's summer locations given romantic glow. Dona Granata's ("Dr T and the Women") costume design reflects the different personalities even more distinctly than the first film did, with Tibby, in particular, made a boho chic style icon and Carmen transformed via stage costume.
"The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2" is that rare sequel that not only stands up to its predecessor, but slightly surpasses it.
Robin did not see this film.
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