Ah, the perfect boy. Sensitive to the nuances of art, literature and emotion — which doesn’t scare him one bit — he’s also as valiant and attentive as any old-time white knight, quick to help the lady of his choice fulfill her dreams while putting his own on hold. Unfortunately, such fine young men don’t seem to exist outside female coming-of-age fiction, where they serve the same purpose as the mature, grounded “hotties” who work their magic on men-children in movies such as Knocked Up.
With its unusual quotient of four protagonists, the sequel to the 2005 film based on Ann Brashares’ best-selling young adult novels features not one but three of these fantasy boys. Luckily, Pants 2 also boasts energetic performances and an unpretentious charm that’s refreshing after the urban gloss and labored wit of Sex and the City.
Best friends since childhood, the four heroines do something that might make Carrie Bradshaw and her friends shudder: They share their favorite item of clothing. The beat-up jeans of the title inexplicably — or “magically,” if you will — fit stick-thin aspiring artist Lena (Alexis Bledel), willowy soccer star Bridget (Blake Lively), funky-styled, average-sized Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) and full-figured academic star Carmen (America Ferrera). And they all look great in them.
The film starts with the young women’s discovery that they’ve made separate plans for their first summer after college, which means they’ll be mailing the pants back and forth to spread the love. (Like Fight Club, the Pants Sisterhood appears to impose a litany of other “rules,” but the sequel doesn’t make us privy to them.) Lena and Tibby are taking summer classes in NYC, Bridget is digging up ancient Greek bones in Turkey, and Carmen is following her snotty Yale friend to an elite theater festival in Bristol, Vermont. (Poetic license . . .) Naturally, none of these glamorous summer pursuits turns out quite as expected. The girls’ bonds feel the strain of distance, and many growing-up experiences are had.
Directed by music-video veteran Sanaa Hamri, the movie goes straight for its target demo of female tweens and teens without offering much to thrill or offend anyone else. All four leads have ample TV experience and know how to connect with the audience — and one another — in pleasant, no-nonsense ways. The best performance and the meatiest story belong to Tamblyn as Tibby, the grumpy video-store-clerk-slash-film-student. She wears her thrift-shop chic well and has a boyfriend (Leonardo Nam), who bears the distinction of being a non-nerdy Asian character in a Hollywood film. After losing her virginity, Tibby develops in predictable but still poignant ways. “I’m like a guy — I suck at relationships!” she moans. To which her “sister” Lena replies cheekily, “If you were a guy, you wouldn’t care that you sucked at relationships.”
The other stories follow well-trodden paths, steering clear of uncomfortable topics. Lena has to “choose” between the boy she left in Greece and an attractive art student who — it’s gently and far too subtly implied — isn’t interested in a serious relationship. While his character seems to exist only to shepherd shy Lena into sexual maturity, Carmen is the one who benefits most from the attentions of a fantasy boy. A handsome Brit (Tom Wisdom) flirts with her and tricks her into auditioning for the lead in The Winter’s Tale — which, naturally, she wins over her WASP princess frenemy. Ferrera does nicely with the Shakespeare, and there’s a fine message here about taking risks. But with a selfless guy as its deus ex machina, the story comes off as wish-fulfillment. No one ever asks why Carmen didn’t want to audition. (Could it be that, Ugly Betty aside, plum roles still go disproportionately to ectomorphic blondes?)
Someday maybe Hollywood will start making chick flicks that are as comically and depressingly real as, say, the boyfriend travails of Lindsay Weir on “Freaks and Geeks.” Until then, Pants 2 is passable summer fun for young women who know how rare it is to find friends — and mates — who are a perfect fit.