Three years have passed since Lena, Tibby, Bridget and Carmen—the sisterhood from Ann Brashares’ young adult novels—first appeared on movie screens. In that time, the girls have graduated from high school and moved on to four different colleges. Their friendship is still intact; but, like the pair of blue jeans they all share, it’s beginning to ravel around the edges. With distance, busyness, romance and growing pains tugging at each of the young ladies, the summer after their freshman year of college becomes a make-or-break time.
Budding artist Lena is taking art classes through the summer. Her heart is broken when she learns that her Greek first love, Kostos, has married someone else. Bridget, whose mother committed suicide just prior to the opening of the first movie, is still running from that reality. This time it’s she who is planning to spend the summer on the other side of the world—at an archaeology camp in Turkey. Tibby is in New York City, still hoping to become a film director, but settling instead for peddling other directors’ films at a video store.
Carmen, who narrates the story, had cleared her summer schedule in hopes of spending the time re-bonding with her old pals. Once she discovers that they’ve all made other plans, she escapes to a summer-long theater workshop in New England. In Carmen’s words, this summer is about each of the girls learning “how to become ourselves without losing each other.”
Lifelong, through-thick-and-thin friendships are the stitches that hold the Traveling Pants sisterhood together. This second film installment explores what happens as young friends grow up. Things aren’t always easy, and it takes hard work to make a friendship weather the transition into adulthood. Thus, honesty, loyalty, forgiveness and unconditional love are lauded as essentials in the toolbox of life.
Our heroines also work through some difficult family situations with universally positive results. At first, Carmen feels displaced because her mother has remarried, is pregnant and is moving out of Carmen’s childhood home. (This is as much the reason for her running away to New England as is the absence of her girlfriends.) In the end, though, Carmen agonizes over how to help take care of her mother as she gives birth to Carmen’s half-brother, and Mama reaffirms her special love for Carmen, her firstborn.
Lena and her sister, Effie, experience some sibling fireworks because Little Sis feels left out of Lena’s inner circle. But those two are also able to resolve their differences. Bridget and her emotionally distant father build bridges, and a reunion with her estranged maternal grandmother helps bring closure and healing after Bridget’s mother’s death.
Through a difficult experience, Tibby learns that “not everyone you love is going to leave you.” Once she begins to believe this, she is able to start trusting people more. A brief shout-out is given to the benefit of face-to-face relationships as opposed to ones conducted by e-mail and other technologies.
Fate is referenced several times as the force responsible for bringing the pants—which, strangely, fit all four girls—to the sisterhood. At the beginning of each summer the girls hold a ceremony of sorts to commence the traveling of the pants among them. We don’t see them pray, but they talk about prayer being a part of that ritual. Audiences get the impression that they pray to the pants (an idea which is later confirmed when we see Tibby don the jeans and repeat “give me a miracle,” followed by a shot of her in a meditation pose).
Portions of a Catholic graveside service are shown, but the dialogue is in Greek, so most American viewers won’t understand what’s being said. Mourners genuflect during the service. A reference is made to asking God for help.
All of the film’s starlets don low-cut outfits. Carmen’s storyline involves several stage productions in which actresses wear period clothing that bares and accentuates the top half of their bosoms. Bridget is shown in a sports bra.
Lena’s drawing class includes multiple sessions with a nude male model. We see him drop his pants and kick off his shorts. (His private parts, and only his private parts, are kept out of the camera’s view.) Later, Tibby says to Lena, “He’s a nude model, not a porn star,” and requests a copy of Lena’s sketch. The model’s name is Leo, and after making a joke about Lena being a virgin to model drawing, he ends up asking her out. They kiss several times. It’s also implied that Lena may have lost her virginity in an all-night rendezvous with her old flame, Kostos. A couple is said to have gotten married because they have a baby on the way. Later, we learn that their marriage has been annulled.
[Spoiler Warning] Tibby’s major crisis is a pregnancy scare. She and her boyfriend, Brian, have been dating for 10 months. He plans a special night to celebrate that “anniversary” and it ends up with them kissing on the bed in his apartment. When she allows him to “go further” than he had expected, he asks whether she wants to have sex for the first time. She does. He then enthusiastically begins to take off his clothes (no skin is shown) as the two continue to make out.
Cut to the morning after. Tibby is sitting on the bed (clothed) and Brian is in the shower in the adjacent bathroom. He comes out in a towel and announces that they have a problem: His condom, which he had been carrying around for two years, broke during sex. So Tibby spends the next several weeks of her summer worrying she might be pregnant. The film explores some of the practical and emotional implications of her conundrum—being mad at Brian and subsequently ignoring him, even though he expresses a desire to be involved in her life, especially if she’s pregnant. And asking Lena to buy her a pregnancy test, then rejoicing with her friend when her period starts and she’s certain she’s not pregnant.
At one point Tibby laments that she wishes she could “take it all back”—meaning that she wishes their sexual encounter had never happened. It’s not clear whether this is a real regret or only one stemming from her fear of pregnancy, but it does begin to convey the gravity of giving away one’s virginity. And even though it turns out that she’s not pregnant, she acknowledges that things can never “go back to the way they were.”
On a dig site at her archaeology camp, Bridget falls through the floor of a partially excavated structure. Bitter about her rocky relationship, Tibby sarcastically suggests The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to video store customers in search of a romantic flick.
God’s name is used flippantly more than a dozen times; Jesus’ twice. Un-ladylike exclamations include “h—” and “frickin’.” A British character makes use of the crudity “b-llocks.”
Though they are underage, Tibby and Brian celebrate their 10-month milestone with a bottle of wine. Champagne is served at a party, and drinks appear at a funeral.
Considering it the “sacred spot” where their friendship started, Bridget, Carmen, Tibby and Lena break into the aerobics studio where their mothers met during their concurrent pregnancies. They don’t do any damage, but still, they’re trespassing. Following one’s heart is once held up as the highest standard in relationships. Reference is made to a farm animal doing something “way nasty.”
The four leading Sisterhood ladies—Alexis Bledel, Amber Tamblyn, America Ferrera and Blake Lively—have grown up a bit since their first Traveling Pants go-around. They’ve also matured as actresses, which makes the film more emotionally compelling than its predecessor. It still has some moments that made me wish for a little more subtlety (perhaps that’s the inevitable result of trying to deal with heavy issues such as manic depression and suicide in a film aimed at teen and tween girls), but production-wise, it’s at least a modest improvement.
Of course, fans of the Traveling Pants books might not agree. After I finished viewing this film, I was informed by two young theatergoers that while the first movie covered only the first of the four novels, this one attempts to cram books two through four into a single film. The girls I talked with (I’d put them at 12 to 14 years old) wondered aloud if this plot compression had confused me. It hadn’t, but it probably means that some elements that feel pretty important to fans of the books have been skipped here.
And that brings me to my most important take-away from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2. Ann Brashares and the folks who have made her books into movies have chosen to tackle some pretty adult issues: losing one’s virginity; trying to wrap a teenage mind around the possibility of pregnancy. These are things that 19-year-olds in our culture really deal with. As a thirtysomething with a heart for young women, this makes me ache for the teenagers in my world. But I am not the target demographic for this film. The tween/teen girls who instructed me on the finer points of the Traveling Pants novels are. And for them, Lena, Tibby, Carmen and Bridget aren’t younger sisters to be concerned about. They’re older sisters to be looked up to. And while their friendships are worth imitating, many of their other choices aren’t.