When the first five minutes of a film show us a wedding, a graduation, a pregnancy, some kisses, and two grave sites, followed by a reunion scene involving shrieking and hugging, we know we are in for an irresistible saga of friendship through love, loss, risk, and clothes. What older sisters get in Sex and the City and their moms find in Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood and Steel Magnolias, middle and high schoolers find in the “Traveling Pants” movies.
In the first “Traveling Pants” summer, the four BFFs used a magical pair of blue jeans that somehow fit them all perfectly as a sort of proto-Facebook for staying in touch. They sent the pants back and forth, embroidering status updates with mementos from their adventures.
Three years have gone by and now cynical Tibby (“Joan of Arcadia’s” Amber Tamblyn), athlete Bridget (“Gossip Girl’s” Blake Lively), shy Lena (“Gilmore Girls'” Alexis Bledel), and writer Carmen (“Ugly Betty’s” America Ferrara) are all in college, meaning they now have the kind of problems that raise the rating from the PG for the 2005 original to a PG-13.
The pants are about to get some serious mileage. Tibby is in New York, working at a DVD store and trying to finish a screenplay assignment. “Romantic comedy is an oxymoron,” she complains. Lena is in Rhode Island, blushing through a figure drawing class and trying to forget her first love, Costas. That nude male model she is drawing has a great…smile. Bridget has gone on an archeological dig in Turkey where a sympathetic scholar (Shohreh Aghdashloo) reminds her that it is not only the bones and artifacts we study but the people and their stories. And Carmen finds herself unexpectedly cast in a Shakespeare production in Vermont while at home her recently re-married mother is about to have a baby. As they face a pregnancy scare, repair an estranged family relationship and struggle with romance, the girls must find new resolve and confidence in themselves and in their connection to each other.
The real love story that is the heart of the movie is the friendship of the girls. They wonder at times if they are still able to communicate but they are always there for each other when needed. Like the first film, the sequel is refreshingly honest about complicated and messy problems and it avoids tidy resolutions. The girls learn that sometimes even with the best of intentions, people — and life — let us down but that courage, sincere kindness, and friends can help even when they cannot fix what is wrong. Even more appealing is the girls’ endearingly tender support for each other’s differences of personality and interests and the matter-of-fact mix of racial and ethnic pairings. The movie makes it clear that, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, no one can make you feel inadequate without your permission and it is one movie that does not imply that a girl has to have a boyfriend to be successful, happy, or complete.
A character in “Steel Magnolias” summarizes the female friendship genre: “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” The talented young actresses and a quartet of appealing swain make this story’s travels between laughter and tears a journey worth taking.
Parents should know that this film includes sexual references and non-explicit situations, frank discussions of birth control, a pregnancy scare, a non-explicit childbirth scene, some mild peril, and a reference to suicide. A strength of the movie is its diverse characters and inter-racial friendships and romances
Family discussion: What do you think will happen to the traveling pants? Why did Carmen have a hard time believing in herself? What scared Tibby most about Brian? What have you done for your friends to provide support?
If you like this, try: The first movie and the books.