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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (review)

No Go, Girl

Yup, those pants are still traveling.

Now, I don’t mean to suggest that the first cinematic outing of the pants was worth seeing, but at least in that one, there was a storytelling reason for the magic jeans, which wondrously fit all four of our BFF heroines, even though one is tall and lanky while another is short and chubby (well, faux movie-chubby) and the others are somewhere in between. And that reason was: As the girls shared the pants over the course of a high-school summer, shipping the jeans around the country and indeed the world as needed so they could each get their chance to embrace the magic, the story followed the pants. You could almost believe — not that it was actually supported by the shoddy excuse for drama we were witnessing, but still — that the pants were just a prop that lent the girls the confidence they needed, the confidence that was already inside them and just needed bringing out, to figure out how to make the transformation from adolescence to adulthood.
If I had to fantasize to find the good in Traveling Pants 1, then even fantasizing won’t get me through The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, and the fact that the jeans are entirely incidental to everything happening here is the least of its problems. It would be an improvement, actually, if the jeans were fantastically imbuing each of the BFFs with just the right amount of go-girl power she needed to accomplish whatever bit of maturation she has to get through. There’s none of that, though. There is, instead, a lot of endless, deadly serious talk about emotions, and precious little actual feeling, either on their part or ours.

The girls — shy Lena (Alexis Bledel: Sin City), bold Bridget (Blake Lively: Accepted), gothy Tibby (Amber Tamblyn: The Ring), and insecure Carmen (America Ferrera: Steel City, Lords of Dogtown) — are off on their first adventures as college students the summer after freshman year. (I shan’t even complain about how they get to do things in the freshmen years that no freshmen would be doing. Like, Tibby, at NYU’s film school? Sorry, but there’s no scriptwriting and shooting on the streets of NYC with 16mm cameras for freshmen; it’s all remedial English and gym. Really.) And those adventures are like Sex and the City Babies. Three of the four girls — all but Bridget — are wrestling with boyfriend/potential boyfriend troubles, from not being able to accept that that totally cute and sensitive British guy is totally into you, to coping with a pregnancy “scare” that no woman today should have to cope with (hint: Honey, it’s called EC, and it’s easy to find, especially at a bastion of liberal evil like NYU), to juggling two ridiculously adorable and sensitive guys. Honestly, these young men are so perfect you expect them to walk on water.

But hey! A gal can always escape them — or chase after them, as needed — by jetting off to Europe on a moment’s notice! I was all ready to bitch about how much money these gals were spending on FedExing those stupid jeans all over the place, but that’s nothing to a last-minute flight to the Continent because a BFF needs you. (The movie tries to fool us into thinking that these chicks aren’t spoiled-rotten brats with a tossed-off reference to a stepfather’s “million frequent-flier miles” that were about to expire… but, you know, that doesn’t really help.)

The gals are learning about themselves. They’re discovering how complicated family can be. And it’s true that these are fires that all young women must pass through. But they’re handled here with such simplicity, and with such slathered-on sentimentality, that it couldn’t be more phony. The film — based on Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood, by Ann Brashares — wants, I think, to be an antidote to the toxic culture we create for girls and young women, one that sets us up for a life of miserable self-doubt. It purports to be all strong and go-girl and pro-female. But it isn’t. It tells us, in the end, that women should be able to read one another’s minds — we shouldn’t even need to talk about whatever stuff is on our minds and bothering us — and if we can’t, that’s a massive failure of our friendships. Which is bullshit.

MPAA: rated PG-13 for mature material and sensuality

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
  • Accounting Ninja

    Ha! Love the freshmen comment. Only in Hollywood, I tell ya.
    “Sex and the City Babies”– a missed spin-off opportunity?? (Hey, there were some things in the 80s that were NOT good)!

  • Kristen

    I haven’t seen either of these movies but, I wish someone could direct me to a good movie about the average teenage girl’s coming of age experience. Boys have tons of them. Why is it that girls only get to be static love interest characters?

  • Kristen

    and girls in movies like these are the only alternative.

  • amanohyo

    This is all I can think of right now, although none of these girls are average, and I’m taking “coming of age” very loosely…and many aren’t teens. But there are women in the lead roles, and the movies aren’t only about snagging the perfect man (except for Pretty in Pink, but I’ve always kinda liked that movie).

    The Dreamlife of Angels
    The City of Lost Children
    The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
    Me and You and Everyone we Know
    Spirited Away
    Kiki’s Delivery Service
    Whisper of the Heart
    Perfect Blue
    Pan’s Labyrinth
    Welcome to the Dollhouse
    Morvern Callar
    Pretty in Pink
    Bend it Like Beckham
    Akeelah and the Bee
    Picnic at Hanging Rock
    Run Lola Run
    Ghost World
    The Passion of Joan of Arc
    You Can Count on Me
    Not One Less
    Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl
    Going on 13
    All I Wanna Do
    The Portrait of a Lady

    And there’s always those “family full of girls” movies like Little Women and Mermaids which kinda bug me since the movies are mostly about the various men the girls are interested in.

    Gee, many of these movies weren’t made in America. How shocking! Anyway, you’re bound to find at least one or two movies that you enjoy in that list. It’s pretty broad (and full of pretty broads…eh? eh?… sorry, couldn’t resist… alright I’m actually ashamed of that one, I promise it won’t happen again).

  • amanohyo

    I suppose by my extremely lax standards, Thelma and Louise and the first three Alien movies also qualify. It’s pretty sad how many allowances I have to make to get enough movies to make a decent-sized list. I wish there was an official list somewhere that included independent movies.

  • Bill

    The Descent.

    Not “coming of age” or about adolescents, but a great alternative to Sex in the City and Pants.

  • amanohyo

    Ooh, yeah I liked The Descent too. The men they find are certainly far from perfect.

  • Accounting Ninja

    It’s not “coming of age” but Terminator 2 deserves mention, if we are gonna mention Alien. Hamilton’s portrayal of Sarah Connor was just awesome.

    Spirited Away is actually my favorite movie of all time!! I really want my son to see it when he’s a little older (he’s three now).

  • amanohyo

    T2 is a good one, although Arnie, the T1000, and the annoying kid share the spotlight somewhat. I forgot The Wizard of Oz and the various Through the Looking Glass movies too.

  • Accounting Ninja

    Very true, but liking a woman’s character doesn’t necessarily mean she has to get most of the screen time, or even be the main character.

    And, sometimes, movies get the “woman as wife” character right, too, for example in the Abyss. Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio (sp?) plays Ed Harris’ wife, but her role in the movie is not limited to this marital role. She’s a strong character who just happens to be married to “the hero” as it were…I mean, I am a wife and mother, too, but that’s not the entirety of who I am. I have other facets of myself that have nothing to do with relationships.

    It’s kind of hard to explain why some women in movies grate on me, and others “get it right”, even if their characters are somewhat traditional in structure…

  • Henry

    “It’s kind of hard to explain why some women in movies grate on me, and others “get it right”, even if their characters are somewhat traditional in structure…”

    It’s true…even in the Batman movies, I was intensely annoyed by the Woman As Unrealistically Adorable Sidekick as played by Katie Holmes, but it didn’t bother me as much when played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Maybe it’s the attitude of the actresses, or maybe I still can’t separate Katie Holmes from Dawson’s Creek, and she is therefore doomed to bug me forever.

  • Accounting Ninja

    Upon perusing the list again, I gotta take a shot at Heathers. I disliked the movie since childhood. Winona just seemed way too easily swayed into going along with Christian Slater (was it him? that’s what the ancient data in my memory banks is telling me).
    Plus, the “popular girls” (and the boys, too) were comically stripped of their humanity, portrayed as utterly awful bitches and bastards, so when they died, we were supposed to feel satisfied, but I still felt disturbed when they were killed…as much as the shunned geeky little girl inside me wished the popular crowd would get their comeuppance.

    Of course, it has been a while since I’ve seen that one.

  • amanohyo

    Full disclosure, I had a huuuge crush on Winona in the 80’s and early 90’s. I even… paid for a ticket to watch How to Make an American Quilt… I’m so ashamed. Looking back, I can see that she was never a very good actress. And I’m sure Heathers isn’t nearly as great as my lovestruck teenaged memories keep insisting it is, although I’d still probably enjoy most of it out of pure nostalgia.

    I don’t actually like all of the movies on the list; I was just trying to think of movies centered around at least one female character who doesn’t develop solely as the result of her intense longing for Hottie McStudmuffin. There are lots of movies where a male hero has one or more strong, well-portrayed female characters around him (like The Abyss), but for this list, I picked movies centered around a girl or woman, since it forces viewers to identify with a nuanced female perspective for a change.

    Also, Totoro and Nausicaa should be on there… and Only Yesterday. Okay, I’ll stop now.

  • Bill

    I think ‘Waitress’ goes on that list, as well.

  • Accounting Ninja

    Ooh, a good 80s Winona role for me was Beetlejuice. She played an atypical, interesting teenage girl whose looks were not her defining characteristic. I mean, she practically wore a burka. :)
    When I was a kid, I thought Lydia was pretty cool.

  • amanohyo

    Yeah, I longed to be friends with someone like Lydia as a teen: an intelligent, quirky, independent, cute iconoclast. I’m guessing kids today would be tempted to label her an “emo.” *sigh*

    Come to think of it, of the few movies with women in the leads, there aren’t many nowadays with “goth chicks” as the heroines. They’re usually perky blonde go-getters or perky blonde lovable fuckups.

    I liked Waitress a lot too. I guess the Legally Blondes and Devil Wears Prada (and Working Girl) could also be up there, although they seem to subvert their girl-power messages by falling back on the gotta-keep-your-man-happy status quo… and they’re mediocre movies that everyone has probably already seen.

  • John

    As long as we’re making confessions here, I suspect Winona’s Lydia was the source of my attraction to goth girls.

    And agreed on your additions to your own list, amanohyo. My Neighbor Totoro is one of my all-time favorite movies, and I think may be one of the best family movies ever made.

  • John


    “Come to think of it, of the few movies with women in the leads, there aren’t many nowadays with “goth chicks” as the heroines. They’re usually perky blonde go-getters or perky blonde lovable fuckups.”

    Have you seen the trailer for ‘House Bunny’? Apparently, the only way that the cute goth-ish girl in there could possibly attract a guy is a complete makeover into a Lohan-clone. :(

    I think the closest we’re going to get to goth-girl heroines are Kate Beckinsale and Milla Jovovich.

  • amanohyo

    Here’s some more, all overrated, but watchable. Kristen, are you still there? Just say when.

    Girl Fight
    Boys Don’t Cry
    Love and Basketball
    Tank Girl
    But I’m a Chherleader
    Kissing Jessica Stein

    Yeah, I can’t figure out why Totoro is so enjoyable. There’s no real conflict to speak of, and there’s barely a plot, but I love it too. I even find myself spotaneously humming bits of the soundtrack. And Kate Beckinsale is kinda gothy… I suppose that period where everyone was copying the Matrix produced a spurt of faux gothy-ness. I think that fad is over now though.

  • amanohyo

    Speaking of overrated and Winona,
    Girl, Interrupted

  • amanohyo

    Some of these are scraping the bottom of the barrel:

    The Holy Girl
    Marie Antoinette
    Erin Brockovitch

    And it’s not a movie, but My So Called Life is a great TV series about a girl’s coming of age.

  • amanohyo

    Freaky Friday
    Vanity Fair

  • Whale Rider is the movie you are looking for, Kristen.

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