Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2

Like the first picture in 2005, the sequel “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2” may be more significant sociologically and demographically than artistically.

Four films this year have been explicitly made as chick flicks, targeted at different strata of moviegoers: “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl” for young girls, “Sex and City” for the middle-age crowd, “Mamma Mia!” for both older and twentysomething women, and now “Sisterhood 2” for the high-school grads and young college crowd.

Like the first film, which received mostly positive reviews and performed O.K. at the box-office (around $40 million domestically), the second should do more or less the same with critics and audiencesunless many new viewers have rented the 2005 flick on DVD and are eager to see the new chapter.

All four actresses have a certain charm, and despite the fact that America Ferrera has gone to TV glory in her Emmy Award-winning show “Ugly Betty,” she still blends well with the rest of the clique, and again giving the strongest performance. Several “older” femmes are added to the mix, such as Shoreh Aghdashloo and Blythe Danner, which turns the film into a more multi-generational experience.

The Greek Islands have become the vacation of choice, the place to relax for women, with pictures like “Shirley Valentine,” “Mamma Mia!” and the “Sisterhood” seriessort of what Italy used to be for stiff upper-class Brits, and the way that the appealing cast is positioned against the beautiful landscape (lensed by the gifted Jim Denault) can only do good as far as promoting tourism is concerned.

In voice-over narration Carmen (Ferrera) says, “”For as long as I could remember, the four of us shared everything. I believed that the Sisterhood could survive anything. But we had to learn on our own how to become ourselves, without losing each other,” which sets the tone for the whole yarn.

Three years have passed since we last saw Tibby, Carmen, Bridget and Lena, the teenagers and best friends who were beginning to realize the possibilities beyond the their Bethesda neighborhood. You may recall that the clique experienced their first, brief separation, when Lena visited her grandparents in Greece, Bridget attended soccer camp, Carmen adjusted to the new divorced status of her father’s, and Tibby took a job to fund her first video project.

To keep in touch back then, they relied upon a special messenger, a pair of vintage jeans found in a thrift shop that miraculously fit each of them perfectly, and even brought them luck. They made a pact to Fed-ex the pants to one another throughout the summer, with notes enclosed from each wearer about all the events that had happened during the time the pants were worn by her. (Several of my undergrad students have told me that such “secret societies,” marked with their own rituals and rites of age, do exist).

But now, at 19, life presents different challenges, problems, and joys. Though the issues they face now are more adult and the pace of life faster, “Sisterhood 2” is still a coming-of-age saga, picking up after the first year of college. Most of them have matured, dealing with concerns and relationships that are more complex if not more complicated. Naturally, what concerns them all is the changing nature and meaning (both personal and collective) of their friendship.

Once more, Elizabeth Chandler has adapted the story from the novels by Ann Brashares, but there is a new director, Sanaa Hamri, who relates to her quartet as young women living in the new millennium by trying (and not always succeeding) to make the storylines, lingo, and dress code as particular and as authentic as possible.

More to the point, the filmmakers’ challenge is how to spread the inevitably episodic tale more or less equally among the four members without favoring one characterand the actress that plays her.

This being a very American story, it centers on the inherent tensions between individual and group behavior, personal versus group responsibility, allowing each to cultivate idiosyncratic talents and also acknowledge some weakness. Like their male counterparts is such stories, the girls have to learn how to stand up for themselves and what they believe in, and the price and reward for doing this. Some unanticipated events occur so that the girls can uncover painful truths about selves or others, and also suggest new, exciting directions.

Not everyone remains in the loop anymoreat least not all the time. Previously, the girls knew every facet of each other’s lives and it took no time to catch up. But now, Tibby will start to tell Carmen something, or Lena will break some new development to Bridget and realize they don’t know enough about what’s been going on to put this new information in a broader context. Now, the disconnection becomes more evident in the hurried messages that are exchanged, and they all go through the fear and excitement of losing the safety net that young adolescence offers.

Though there’s continuity, this picture is stand-alone, and for those who have not seen the first one, there are references, memories, and recaps that recall events of the near and more distant past.

Bridget (Blake Lively of “Gossip Girl” fame) is playing soccer at Brown; Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) is at NYU film school; Lena (Alexis Bledel) studies at the Rhode Island School of Design; and Carmen (Ferrera) is at Yale.

The challenge is how to establish independent lives, accommodate change, and still hold on to each other. Carmen expects all of them reunite for the summer, but her peers have other plans. Tibby decides to take summer school in Manhattan, as her relationship with Brian McBrian (Leonardo Lam) becomes complicated. Lena is taking a drawing class, where she meets the handsome model Leo (Jesse Williams). Will he help her forget Kostos (Michael Rady), her former long-distance love Bridget joins an archeological trip to Turkey, where she meets a new role model, professor Mehani (Shohreh Aghdashloo), but continues to miss her grandmother (Blythe Danner, lovely in a small part).

Left on her own, Carmen accepts an invitation to a Vermont theater group from her Waspish Yale classmate, Julia (Rachel Nichols), where she assumes the backstage role she was doing at Yale–until she’s encouraged by a British lad named Ian (Tom Wisdom) to play Perdita in “A Winter’s Tale”; never mind that she lacks raining and her acting is raw and unconvincing.

Meanwhile, the pants continue to get their mileage, but the magic and novelty of communication are gone, even if new questions are raised, due to some unexpected conditions such as pregnancy. Will the pants continue to be one size fits all

Drawing on her music-video and commercials work, Sanaa Hamri (who previously helmed “Something New”) relies too much on montages set to melodies, and the picture is more impersonal and less sensitive and emotional than it was under the helm of Ken Kwapis.

Speaking of gender, men are relegated to the periphery, but we accept that, knowing that most of summer’s top guns, the epics, the special effects sagas, and even the comedies (Judd Apatow’s fare is prime example) center on and are directed by males.

In the end, the narrative is a tad too orderly, a tad too pleasant to generate any interesting drama or real spark. That said, I have no doubts that if this picture does well at the box-office, in three-four years, there will be another chapter. That’s the nature of Hollywood franchises; they keep making them until they completely run out of steam, and the third one is usually the test.

Cast

Tibby Tomko-Rollins – Amber Tamblyn
Lena Kaligaris – Alexis Bledel
Carmen Lowell – America Ferrera
Bridget Vreeland – Blake Lively
Julia – Rachel Nichols
Ian – Tom Wisdom
Carmen’s Mom – Rachel Ticotin
Brian McBrian – Leonardo Nam
Kostos – Michael Rady
Professor Nasrin Mehani – Shohreh Aghdashloo
Greta – Blythe Danner
Leo – Jesse Williams

Credits
Warner release of an Alcon Entertainment presentation, in association with Alloy Entertainment, of a Di Novi Pictures/Debra Martin Chase production.
Produced by Chase, Denise Di Novi, Broderick Johnson, Kira Davis.
Executive producers, Andrew A. Kosove, Christine Sacani, Alison Greenspan, Leslie Morgenstein, Bob Levy.
Co-producers, Steven P. Wegner, Yolanda T. Cochran, Gaylyn Fraiche.
Directed by Sanaa Hamri.
Screenplay, Elizabeth Chandler, based on the novels by Ann Brashares.
Camera: Jim Denault.
Editor: Melissa Kent.
Music: Rachel Portman.
Music supervisor: Julia Michels.
Production designer: Gae Buckley.
Art director: Andrew Cahn.
Set decorator: George Detitta.
Costume designer: Dona Granata.
Sound: Mathew Price.
Sound designer: Cameron Frankley; re-recording mixers, Gregory H. Watkins, Timothy O. LeBlanc.
Visual effects supervisor: Tom Turnbull.
Visual effects: Rocket Science VFX.

MPAA Rating: PG-13.
Running time: 112 Minutes.