Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, TheReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 08/06/08 00:00:00
As I began watching “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2,” the sequel to the popular 2005 screen adaptation of the much-loved young adult novel by Ann Brashares, it quickly dawned on me that while I remembered seeing and reviewing the original film when it first came out, I didn’t actually remember much of anything about it. Therefore, before sitting down to write up my thoughts on the sequel, I decided to look up my review of the original to refresh my memory of both the film and my thoughts on it. In that review, I conceded that seeing as how I had never been and never would be a 13-year-old girl, I might not exactly be the ideal audience member that it was being pitched at. I suggested that the narrative structure--in which each of the four main characters got spun off into their own miniature chick flick--made the entire thing seems like “Sin City” for tweeners. I concluded things by noting that while it would probably play well enough for its core audience, there was another film that was just about to open--a British import by the name of “My Summer of Love” (starring the then-unknown Emily Blunt)--that did a much better job of tracking the up and downs of the fluid relationship between a pair of teenage girls over the course of one long, hot summer. Although I essentially panned the film, it wasn’t a particularly vitriolic pan and a couple of weeks later, when confronted with a far more dreadful film aimed at essentially the same audience, I even went so far as to suggest that maybe I had been a little too harsh on it after all.Reading over that earlier review again, I was a little surprised to discover that virtually every criticism that I said about that first film applied to this continuation--so much so, in fact, that were I the lazy type, I might have considered simply rerunning that original piece after making a few cosmetic changes in terms of specific plot details. One again, it is a film that is aimed at a target audience of which I never have and never will be a member. Once again, the narrative structure makes it feel like a “Sin City”-type sampler of chick-flick clichés than a fully fleshed-out narrative. Once again, it is a film that will probably play well to its core audience (the group of Girl Scouts that I saw it with--don’t ask--seemed enthused enough throughout) but while it is certainly better than the pernicious likes of “Bratz The Movie” or “Sex and City,” there are plenty of films out there like “My Summer of Love” that are much more entertaining, edifying and thought-provoking, regardless of whether you are a teen girl. The only major difference is that if I were to sit down and make a list of such films, I would have to put the original “Sisterhood” on there because even while it was more or a less a failure, it was at least an ambitious failure that made an effort to provide its audience with something that didn’t treat them completely like thoughtless dolts who were interested only in boys and clothes. This one, on the other hand, is kind of a drag--a completely unnecessary continuation that is overlong, strangely dour and populated by a quartet of actresses who seem as if they would rather be doing anything than living up to their contractual obligations to appear in a sequel now that they (or at least half of them) have better things to do.
Once again, the film (based on Brashares’ fourth “Sisterhood” novel, “Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood”) follows the misadventures of a group of lifelong friends--shy and sweet Lena (Alexis Bledel), headstrong and impulsive Bridget (Blake Lively), outgoing and artistic Carmen (America Ferrara) and cynical and surly Tibby (Amber Tamblyn)--and the magical pair of jeans that they share (which fit them all perfectly despite their different body types) as they prepare for another summer in which they will be separated from each other. Lena, who is nursing a broken heart since a recent trip to Greece for a funeral has revealed that her beloved Kostas (Michael Rady) has gotten married and is about to become a father, is off to the Rhode Island School of Design to work on her figure studies. Bridget, whose tense home life with her father (the result of her mother‘s suicide a few years earlier) has not been eased by her departure to Brown, is off to Turkey to take part in an archaeological dig run by the eminent professor Nasrin Mehani (Shohreh Aghdashloo). Carmen, who is already on edge because of the remarriage of her mother (Rachel Ticotin) and the imminent arrival of Mom’s new baby, has been invited by Julia (Rachel Nichols), the queen bee of the Yale theater department where she works behind the scenes, to come with her to Vermont to a summer theater camp to help out with a production of Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale.” As for Tibby, who is attending film school at NYU (yeah, no state schools for these gals), she is forced to stay in the city and take summer school because she blew her screenwriting class--she was assigned to write a romantic comedy and since she’s a cynic (the kind who helpfully reminds you of that fact every five minutes or so), hers ended with the couple breaking up and it was deemed unacceptable (I guess this means that “Annie Hall” is no longer on the curriculum at NYU, of all places)--while working in a funky video store (that seems to carry far more VHS than you might ordinarily find in 2008) that allows her to be all cynical with the customers until they run fleeing for the relative peace and comfort of their nearest Schlockbuster Video.
Of course, no one would pay good money to see our heroines going through the motions of slow and uneventful summers and before long, each one is rocked by some kind of crisis or another. Lena finds herself falling for Leo (Jesse Williams), a classroom figure model who looks like a dream, yearns of being a serious artist (though the major work that he displays appears to be a portrait of Doctor Manhattan) and cooks meals that are so lavish and sumptuous that even Martha Stewart would bow down to him and beg for the recipe,(of course, he doesn’t need a recipe--it is all freestyle with him because that is just the kind of hunk he is) and just when things seem to be going perfectly, Kostas pops up out of nowhere with some shocking news of his own. Having discovered a cache of letters written to her by her long-lost maternal grandmother that were hidden away by her father, Bridget impulsively decides to abandon the dig and jet off to Alabama to meet the grandmother (Blythe Danner) whom she hasn’t seen since she was six and has absolutely no memory of. In Vermont, Carmen is goaded into trying out for a role in “The Winter’s Tale” by hunky star Ian (Tom Wisdom) and, to her shock and Julie’s horror, the director (Kyle MacLachlan) inexplicably casts her in the lead role of Perdita while sticking Julie with the less-than-secondary part of Dorcos. As for the bitter and hateful Tibby, her attempts to be the next Nora Ephron are put to the side when she is relieved of her virginity by her ultra-sweet, ultra-kind and presumably ultra-patient boyfriend Brian (Leonardo Nam) and finds herself in the midst of a pregnancy scare literally sixteen seconds after the deed is done. As a result, she kicks Brian to the curb, feels miserable that no one shares her pain and then feels really miserable when she realizes that she made a mistake only to find out that he is now dating Lena’s younger sister, Effie (Lucy Hale).
As with the earlier film, “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2” traffics in some of the hoariest soap opera clichés imaginable and like that earlier film, it does so not to subvert them in any way or to offer up new variations on familiar themes, but to solidify them for yet another generation of moviegoers who may not yet have had an opportunity to be bludgeoned by them first-hand. What is a little surprising this time around is just how grim and depressing the results are this time around. Right from the start, everyone seems moody and miserable and depressed and as things progress, the mood only gets bleaker. Okay, so maybe subjects like parental suicide and unexpected pregnancy are not exactly sure-fire laugh-getters (“Juno” notwithstanding) and the way that they have been portrayed could presumably help other girls who are going through the same things in their own lives. However, even the stuff that seems to be tailor-made for a lighter touch, such as Lena being torn between two utterly perfect hunks or the backstage shenanigans involving Carmen and Julie, is executed in a dirge-like manner that sucks all the fun out of the material--if you can‘t wrestle even a few smiles out of backstage bitchery and backstabbing, you simply aren‘t trying very hard. And for a film that wants to celebrate the eternal bonds of true friendship, it seems strange that it keeps its four central characters apart for so much of the running time and when the story does contrive to finally put two or more of the Sisterhood in the same room with each other, they seem strangely disaffected and distant in the way that former friends do when circumstances force them to socialize with each other against their will.
This is especially a bummer when you consider that one of the virtues of the first film was the freshness and energy that the four lead actresses brought to the fairly hackneyed screenplay--they weren’t able to overcome the material but they gave it more life than it deserved. This time around, however, they just simply seem to be going through the motions without out investing anything more than the absolute minimum of enthusiasm. Of the four performances, the most disappointing one has to be the one from American Ferrara because the first time around, she was so sympathetic and engaging that she pretty much lit up the screen whenever she appeared. This time, she seems as bored with the sub-“All About Eve” proceedings that she has found herself trapped in here as we are and to make matters worse, while Ferrara is an enormously appealing performer, the words of Shakespeare do not fall trippingly off her tongue. As for the newcomers to the story, the guys all seem to come straight from the pages of “Non-Threatening Boys” magazine, the girls are non-entities and Blythe Danner appears to be channeling an entire Tennessee Williams play in her performance as Bridget’s long-lost granny--alas, not one of the better Williams plays. The only performer who manages to cut through all the gloom, doom and boredom to bring some much-needed levity is Kyle MacLachlan as the unctuous theater director. It isn’t a particularly great or inventive bit of work by any means--in many ways, he gives pretty much the exact same performance that he did in the immortal “Showgirls”--but he knows how to deliver his lines with just the right touch of deliberately hammy smarm to make his every appearance hugely amusing.Outside of him, the most entertaining thing about “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2” is the bizarre running joke throughout the film involving the over-the-top travel habits of nearly all the characters. Even though everyone early one bemoans the fact that they are going to be separated from each other, many of them wind up dropping everything in a heartbeat to drive or fly off to either comfort or confront someone when the need arises-during a summer in which the rising price of oil has made both air and car travel incredibly expensive, we get to watch with barely concealed amusement as Kostas flies from Greece to Rhode Island to confess something to Lena, Bridget abandons Turkey in mid-dig to blithely jet off to Alabama, everyone driving up and down the Eastern Seaboard and, in the climax, our heroines literally journeying halfway around the world in search of their beloved pants when they turn up missing in Greece. (The last is so over-the-top that the story even pauses so that one of them can explain that a relative has “like a million frequent flyer miles” that they are using.) When the film comes out on DVD, I hope that the filmmakers have enough of a sense of humor about this element to add a subtitle track that calculates the mileage and fuel costs that everyone racks up by the end. If there is any room left after that, maybe they can tack on some hidden camera footage of the exact moment when the studio lawyers informed America Ferrara and Blake Lively, whose stars have risen considerably in the three years since the original thanks to the respective successes of “Ugly Betty” and “Gossip Girl,” that yes, they were contractually obligated to appear in this film after all.
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