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.
• The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (review)