'Pants 2' a fitting sequel

Dana Barbuto

The “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” franchise is “Sex and the City” for teens. From wayward romances to family drama, the films follow four best friends as they navigate life’s ups and downs.

Just as “Sex and the City” spoke to its audience in a way that made it a cultural phenomenon, “Sisterhood” speaks the same language as its target – teens. And it’s not, like, that “whatever” garbage, infiltrating most adolescent dramas. There’s a way to capture teen turmoil without being condescending and superficial and that’s where the “Sisterhood” franchise succeeds. It’s equal parts sweet and bold, just like the popular source novels by Ann Brashares.

Though, it’s not as frank – or crude – as “Sex and the City,” “Sisterhood” has its share of broken condoms, breakups and betrayal – yet remains age appropriate, steering clear of potty humor and disgrace.

The underlying themes of friendship, forgiveness, resiliency and happiness, remain at the core in the follow-up to the 2005 hit in which lifelong pals Tibby, Carmen, Bridget and Lena shared a magical pair of jeans that brought good fortune to each in various corners of the world.

Not only do the pants fit each gal’s different proportions perfectly, they also provide clarity and resolution, as they strengthen the bond between them.

When last seen, the fab four were 16 and spending their first summer apart, connected only by the pants they traded off weekly via Federal Express. Fast forward three years and it’s the summer after their freshman year of college. Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) is a film student at New York University. Bridget (Blake Lively) is a soccer star at Brown; Lena (Alexis Bledel) is an art student at Rhode Island School of Design and Carmen (America Ferrera) is in the drama department at Yale.

Their reunion is brief, as each girl has plans that take them away for the summer. Tibby remains in the city to work on a screenplay. Bridget heads to Turkey on an archaeological dig. Lena returns to Rhode Island for a summer drawing program and Carmen is off to Vermont for summer stock theater.

Predictably, each blossoms into womanhood on her own terms, but it’s Carmen facing the toughest challenge, as her remarried mom is about to have a baby. “Maybe the pants have done all they can,” Carmen laments.

In Vermont, though, for the first time in her life, Carmen is in the spotlight and object of the leading man’s affections and the target of a back-stabbing diva.

It’s no surprise the meatiest role belongs to Ferrara, as she’s the best actress of the bunch – with an Emmy under her belt for “Ugly Betty.” She’s able to nimbly jump between comedy and drama and stay believable. Plus, it’s fun to root for the underdog character.

The fresh-faced and shy Lena, still reeling from the loss of her first love Kostos, meets a new hunk (newcomer Jesse Williams) who challenges her to fall in love again. The adorable Bledel gives a soulful performance and her reaction to the nude model in her figure-drawing class is priceless.

While in Turkey, blonde bombshell Bridget realizes she is still haunted by her mother’s suicide. She returns stateside to unearth answers and shows up on grandma Greta’s (Blythe Danner) doorstep looking for closure. Lively, who’s making a career of playing the hot girl in teen vehicles like “Gossip Girl” and “Accepted,” shows real ability to go darker as her character struggles with death.

After a pregnancy scare Tibby runs as far from love as possible before she’s forced to confront her fears of intimacy. Tamblyn’s (“Joan of Arcadia”) saucy Tibby is the closest there is to a real angst-ridden college student. She’s scared of love, sarcastic and just a tad unambitious.

Like the first “Sisterhood” the Greek island of Santorini returns as a mouth-watering setting for the third act. Lena is dragged there on a mission to get the jeans, stolen by her jealous sister Effie. She’s later joined by Bridget, Tibby and Carmen, who arrive on the island on a mission of their own.

Credit director Sanaa Hamri for keeping pace with Ken Kwapis’s efforts in the first film, and writer Elizabeth Chandler for again providing sharp dialogue and finely woven stories. They didn’t mess it up, as often is the case with sequels, making “Pants 2” a well-fitting addition.

Reach Dana Barbuto at dbarbuto@ledger.com.

SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS 2

(PG-13 for mature material and sensuality) Cast includes Amber Tamblyn, America Ferrera, Blake Lively and Alexis Bledel. 3 stars.