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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The original Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was a pleasant surprise during the summer of 2005. Certainly it was not a movie I would have expected to like on the surface of things, but it won me over with its intelligence, charm, and perception about the travails of adolescent life. (It also proved my theory that there's no such thing as a "chick flick" since a good movie can be enjoyed by anybody.) The sense of being joyously blindsided by a film can never be recaptured by a sequel, if only because one anticipates pleasure the second time around. Even so, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 is a worthy successor. Most sequels are worse than the originals. A few are better. Here's one that is exactly as good as the one that inspired it, and that's enough for me.

Once again, we enter the world of four friends who share possession of a magical pair of blue jeans that fit each of them perfectly, despite their having different body types. Each girl wears the pants for a week, then mails them to the next girl. Their belief is that the pants are somehow capable of producing miracles and special occasions to present themselves. Or at least that used to be the idea. As the girls have grown slightly older, they no longer put the same kind of faith in the pants as they once did. Throughout the story, they ask themselves whether the pants are really the source of magic or whether it springs from someplace else entirely - someplace more internal.

That question gets answered as the girls learn a new set of life lessons. Bridget (Blake Lively) goes on a school-sponsored archeological expedition in Turkey and is then inspired to establish a relationship with the grandmother (Blythe Danner) from whom she's been forcibly estranged. Film student Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) is now dating video game whiz Brian (Leonardo Nam), but begins to question her readiness for commitment after a pregnancy scare. Carmen (America Ferrera) attends a theater camp in Connecticut, where she accidentally snags the lead role in a play and ends up facing the wrath of the company's resident diva. And Lena (Alexis Bledel) returns to America after having her heart broken by her Greek boyfriend, only to have him re-enter her life just as a potential new relationship is heating up.

If all this sounds vaguely soap opera-ish, it certainly doesn't play that way. What I've liked most about the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movies is that they largely avoid melodrama. Both films take teenage problems seriously and view adolescents as thinking, caring individuals.

There's also an affecting emphasis on the value of friendship that runs through both installments, but this one in particular. The pants serve to represent the bond between the four girls, who sometimes bicker and fight, but always, always support one another in a pinch. Much of the credit has to go to the stars, all of whom turn in solid performances. Their friendship feels real, which is why we buy it. That there are few good movie roles for women that don't involve being a sex object is a complaint that's been (rightfully) made time and again. This movie is an exception to that. Here you get four solid characters being brought to life by four exceptionally talented young actresses with bright futures ahead of them.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 is a mash-up of events that occur in the second, third, and fourth books of Ann Brashears' young adult series. For that reason, the movie has brief moments where it feels a little bit like things have been left out. For example, it took me a long time to realize that Lena's sister, who was a little kid in the original, is now the other teenager hanging around. Also, the reasons why Lena and her Greek boyfriend broke up are kind of nebulous. Bledel seems to get the short end of the stick anyway; there are long stretches without her, although the movie's last act hinges on her particular subplot.

Those kinds of very minor glitches don't detract from the film's many pleasures, though. I liked the performances and the depiction of solidarity between Lena, Bridget, Carmen, and Tibby. I was never a teenage girl (obviously), but I was once a teenage boy, and I know full well how essential friends are in navigating the often-difficult adolescent years. Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 does too and, in its final moments, you realize these young women would - and will - be friends forever, with or without magic pants.

( out of four)

DVD Features:

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 is available on DVD and Blu-Ray in widescreen format on November 18. A digital copy of the movie is included. Here's a look at the special features that supplement the film;

"Go Jump Off a Cliff" - The movie's finale, which features the four main characters cliff diving into the ocean, was not in the original screenplay. Interviews with the actresses reveal that they were wandering around Greece while filming and encountered some visiting American males who were jumping into the water. They joined in, finding the experience so liberating that they talked director Sanaa Hamri into retooling the ending. The scene, in context, is quite striking as a metaphor for what the characters are experiencing, so it's interesting to hear how the moment came to be.

Deleted Scenes - There are about 10 minutes of deleted scenes on the DVD. Nothing earth-shattering was excised; most of the moments simply add a little more detail to the subplots of each girl. However, Hamri appears on camera to introduce each scene and explain why it got cut. Her comments are informative, and having her talk directly to the camera (instead of just doing a voiceover commentary) is a nice touch. In a movie where there are four main characters, certain things have to be eliminated for the good of the whole, no matter how entertaining they are in and of themselves. This particular presentation of deleted scenes gives us a glimpse into the almost Darwinian process of motion picture editing, where only the strongest material can afford to survive.

Gag Reel - Running about five minutes, the gag reel is notable mostly because it reveals America Ferrera to be the main error maker in the cast. She flubs lines, cracks up on camera, and has prop problems. While not the funniest gag reel ever, you do get the sense that the production of Sisterhood 2 was a lot of fun for all involved.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was a mid-range hit at the box office, but found a much wider audience on DVD. The sequel did a little better theatrically and looks to be just as successful in the home format. Both films are smart, emotionally honest about the adolescent experience, and well worth checking out.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 is rated PG-13 for mature material and sensuality. The running time is 1 hour and 57 minutes.

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