From an ideological perspective, there's a lot to like about Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, a shiny, buoyant movie about young women that gives them actual personalities and brains. Blessed with four talented actresses returning for the sequel, as well as a fiercely loyal fanbase, the movie didn't have to do much to satisfy its audience. If it had only tried a little harder, though, it could have been something worth recommending.
The chief problem is the four-part storyline, which, like the first film, finds the main characters separated for the summer and keeping in touch by sending back and forth the “magical pants” that fits all four of them. This time it's the summer after freshman year of college for the girls, and while Carmen (America Ferrera) plans to spend the break at home with her pals, the others have bigger plans. Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) sticks around NYU to work at a video store and work on her screenplay, Bridget (Blake Lively) treks off to an archaeological dig in Turkey, and Lena (Alexis Bledel) takes a figure drawing class in Rhode Island.
Carmen eventually joins a Shakespearean theater troupe in Vermont, and from there all four girls proceed to have their own life dramas seemingly picked from a hat. Carmen copes with a jealous friend and a new love interest when she's unexpectedly cast as the lead, Tibby faces a pregnancy scare, Lena is stuck between two hunks who love her, poor thing, and Bridget faces the truth of her mother's death while digging up people who have been dead for 2,000 years. The way the four stories are intertwined make the beats of the plots obvious; Lena realizes who she truly loves just as Carmen starts to see the truth about her so-called friend, and all the stories neatly tie themselves up in time for a grand finale. Supporting characters come and go without making much of an impact, though Kyle MacLachlan is hilarious as Carmen's arrogant director and Shohreh Aghdashloo makes a mark as Bridget's archaeology professor. Luckily the four leads don't need all that much support, since each vibrantly inhabits her character. Tamblyn is particularly acerbic and hilarious as the artsy Tibby, and Ferrera is wonderfully open and vulnerable as the sensitive, insecure, hugely talented Carmen. Even when the dumb plot mechinations seem impossibly forced, all four actresses shine through, and their characters are fully-formed even when the story has done nothing to get them there.
The girls spend most of the movie apart, which sometimes makes it difficult to swallow the idea of their incredible bond and devotion to each other. They finally reunite in a coda set in Greece that stretches all credulity, even when they throw out the excuse of frequent flyer miles as a reason four college girls could suddenly take off and go to Greece for a week. But hey, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 may be masquerading as a story about real girls, but as much as Sex and the City was, it's a fantasy through and through. The serious issues that crop up throughout the film are dealt with minimally or not at all, and the final message is a lazy, rote one about girl power and friendship.
The pants that are ostensibly at the center of the story are practically an afterthought, as if director Sanaa Hamri and screenwriter Elizabeth Chandler realized they were a stupid plot contrivance to begin with, and college-age girls wouldn't take them seriously anyway. They're right. Losing the central gimmick might have given room to tell better, truer stories about the amazing girls at the center of this movie, rather than sticking them inside a contrived plot and letting them flail. Sisterhood offers a lot to enjoy, with easy laughs and tears, but it's not what the book's fans and the teenage girls who will see this deserve.