After a year at Yale, Carmen has kept pace with her classes but finds her personal life less manageable. Still not sure what she wants to do with her future, she returns to Bethesda with high hopes of reuniting with the sisterhood and is crushed to learn they've all made other plans for the summer. Her mother, played again by Rachel Ticotin, has recently remarried and is now simultaneously preparing for the birth of a baby and moving to a new house, her happiness adding poignantly to Carmen's sense of displacement and disconnection.
"Carmen accepts an invitation from Julia, a drama student she knows at Yale, to work backstage at a theater over the summer because she really has nothing else to do," says America Ferrera. "But she's surprised at how much she grows there."
To her amazement, and with some trepidation, Carmen is cast as the lead in Shakespeare's "A Winter's Tale" and discovers a dormant passion for acting. At the same time, she shyly captures the attention of her charming leading man, Ian, played by British actor Tom Wisdom.
Ian's genuine affection encourages Carmen to shine on stage. But it's the demanding nature of her mercurial director that will test her confidence and conviction like never before and, consequently, lead Carmen to consider whether this accidental turn of events is just a pleasant diversion or possibly a bold new direction for her life.
Interestingly, notes Hamri, "It is not Carmen's success on stage or Ian's flattering overtures that empower her as much as it is Julia's aggressively jealous reaction to these triumphs and the subsequent steps Carmen must make to stand up for herself."
Rachel Nichols, who plays Julia, points out that the role is not that of a simple villain or merely a foil for Carmen-a testament to the attention given each character by Ann Brashares and translated to the screen by Chandler. "Julia is a real person with her own problems and, though she behaves hideously, she is not completely devoid of good qualities. It's possible that Julia might even learn something from this experience... although, clearly, it is Carmen's moment of revelation."