I was on my way to meet Kendall at the Grove last night for a sold-out screening of “Sex in the City” when I ran into a couple I know from our neighborhood. When I told them where I was going, they looked at me with pity and compassion. “What a supportive husband you are!” they commiserated, as if I was being dragged kicking and screaming into the estrogen-choked theatre when I’d rather be home eating beer nuts and watching the NBA finals.
“No, I’m looking forward to seeing it,” I said, too embarrassed to elaborate on what a fan I was of the HBO series or how much I love other chick flicks such as “Terms of Endearment,” “Sense and Sensiblity,” “Fried Green Tomatoes,” and “When Harry Met Sally” (I draw the line at “Beaches” and “Pretty Woman”). I’ve admired Sarah Jessica Parker since her stints on “Square Pegs” and the short-lived “A Year in the Life” and I always found her to be a down-to-earth good ol’ gal despite her “Sex and the City” alter ego’s obsession with all sorts of crap like her insanely expensive and foot-crippling Manolo Blahniks. I had some reservations about how the TV show would translate to the Big Screen, but I was optimistic and eager to see what these dames were up to four years later. Here is my capsule review of the film:
As ground-breaking and funny and occasionally shocking as the TV series was during its six-year run, the movie is an unholy bore. Don’t worry—I’m not going to give the plot away, at least I’ll try not to for those of you still planning to sit through this mess. Not that there’s really any plot to give away. Have any of these women changed or grown during the four years since the series ended or during the course of the film which takes place over 12 months? I will put an end to one rumor that has been circulating the Internet, a rumor I’m guessing was planted by the producers to create a buzz: the character of Mr. Big does NOT die in the film. Darn it. If only Big had died, we might have been treated to some authentic pathos and emotions. I’ve never liked Mr. Big. Can anyone tell me a single redeeming facet of this character other than his supersized bank account? I guess he’s supposed to be charming and attractive, too, but what a misogynistic jerk.
Relax, I haven’t lost it to the point where I’ve forgotten these are fictional characters and none of my comments are intended as slights of the excellent actors who portray them, Mr. Big’s Chris Noth included. No, I place all blame for this Lawrence of Arabia-length tedium on writer and director Michael Patrick King for not being more creative or daring in the way he chose to revisit his well-dressed gang. I get that “realism” only goes so far in the world of Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte, and I’m not saying I’d ever want their lives to mirror their real counterparts in New York City. Let’s be honest, I’m glad they are all still knockouts, they are very fun to look at, and their archetypes were well developed in the series. But can’t we still get a little growth? Is the quest for endless material possessions still as interesting as it was when the show started in 1998? I think not, and God knows it doesn’t begin to reflect the current realities of our dismal economy.
When the film opens, Carrie and Big are apartment-hunting in New York. After seeing yet another multimillion-dollar “dump” on Fifth Avenue, the realtor reveals that the penthouse in the pre-war building has just opened up due to a nasty divorce. It is an incredible palace, like something out of “Bonfire of the Vanities,” and Mr. Big, without any discussion or negotiation, buys it right there on the spot for Carrie. Hello? I don’t have a clue what such places go for on Fifth Avenue, if they’re ever even available, but I would hazard a guess at 10 million bucks? Possibly 20 million? I’m probably kidding myself. In 2004, Rupert Murdoch paid $44 million for a Fifth Avenue penthouse that carried with it a monthly maintenance fee of over $21,000. Where the fuck did Big get all that money? Is he supposed to be a billionaire? Who else could afford such an extravagance without a second thought? Okay, suspension of disbelief, they’re all rich, I get it. But wouldn’t it have made for a much more interesting film to have someone (such as Big) having some momentary money issues and to see how the characters (especially Carrie) respond to that?
When Big redoes the giant closets in the penthouse as a gift to Carrie (as if she would have ever let her man redesign the closets without her input), she squeals with such delight that I leaned over to Kendall and muttered, “See, honey, that’s what love real love is—spending a shitload of money on your mate. I'm so sorry I don't love you as much as Big loves Carrie.” Kendall and I are normally the most respectful moviegoers on the planet—we would never dream of talking during a film and we are usually as quiet as church mice. I always know how much we’re hating a movie by the sounds coming out of us—we spent much of the film groaning louder than Miranda and Steve in their unfortunate sex scenes. Oy.
I despise the character of Big but I always liked the other guys. Miranda's husband Steve Brady, Charlotte’s husband Harry Goldenblatt, even Samantha’s hunky boy-toy Smith Jerrod were interesting characters who had a lot of redeeming characteristics on the series. All three appear in the film, but they are completely wasted. Every male character in this film is abominably written, paper cutouts without a hint of complexity. “I changed who I was for you,” Miranda angrily screams at Steve in one scene midway through the film. “Who the fuck asked you to?” Steve should have replied.
We see several scenes with Miranda’s cute red-haired son and Charlotte’s adorable Chinese daughter but the children seem like accessories for the characters every bit as much as their Louis Vuitton handbags. Both of the children are forced to sit through conversations that are wildly inappropriate for kids their age (and I’m not even talking about the discussions about sex) and there was not a single moment that evoked the realities of parenthood.
The two gay characters from the series, played by Mario Cantone and Willie Garson, are back but even though they were written by a gay man they are about as stereotypical and sexless (despite one pathetic kiss) as you can get. The only real gay men in the film are Carrie Bradshaw and Samantha Jones. Jennifer Hudson appears in the film as Carrie’s personal assistant in yet another weak, clichéd role that could have been so much more. I'm sorry Hudson chose this as the follow-up to her amazing Oscar-winning performance in “Dreamgirls.” Her character Louise is from St. Louis and she gives her boss a DVD of “Meet Me in St. Louis” as a gift, a film Carrie apparently has never heard of. Later in the film when a disinterested Carrie turns off the great MGM film in mid-scene, Kendall and I were ready to storm out of the theatre in protest.
I expected a lot of product placement in the film but I never dreamed it would play such a massive role. I would say a full hour could have been mercifully trimmed if they had knocked out some of the gratuitous scenes in which we have to see one designer product after another. One fashion show, okay, but several? I shudder to think at the messages that impressionable young girls will take away from this film. I could care less about the nudity (you gotta love 53-year-old Kim Cattrall for having the guts to appear completely naked except for a few strategically placed pieces of sushi!), it’s the constant crass commercialism that made my skin crawl. How many $525 pairs of shoes does any woman need, even if she can afford them (and Carrie’s talk of her book advances were ludicrous in today’s publishing world)?
In the pseudo-feminism presented in this film, worshipping material possessions is all fine and good as long as you’re paying for them yourself. When Samantha attends an auction to bid on a crazy expensive ring she wants, she fumes when she is outbid by an anonymous phone participant. Turns out her boyfriend knew she wanted it and bought it for her which basically ruins it for her because she needed to show the world that she could buy it for herself. If she wants to be mad at her boyfriend, how about the fact that his bidding upped the price of the silly bauble to $40,000 more than she would have had to pay if he wasn’t trying to get it for her?
I have more complaints but to discuss them I’d have to give away key plot points so I’ll shut up for now. In once scene towards the end of the film Carrie is reading “Cinderella” to Charlotte’s daughter Lily and wisely cautions her to be wary of the story’s message that a Prince Charming holds the key to any girl’s happiness. If only Michael Patrick King had received that memo!
The good news is that “Sex in the City” stars four women over 40 who are gorgeous sexual beings instead of frumpy housewives or crazed serial killers—that in itself is a miracle. The film raked in about double the money that the industry expected it to. It was a true phenomenon, with gaggles of girlfriends descending upon the multiplexes en masse. This bodes well for more films with women in lead roles getting green-lit by the women-shy studio execs. “This is a blockbuster for women. This was to women what ‘Indiana Jones’ and ‘Star Wars,’ let’s say, are to men,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracker Media By Numbers. Really, Paul? Those movies are for men? Help!
The bad news is that the movie gives chick flicks a bad name. With an opening weekend haul of more than $55 million, it will be hard to resist making more “Sex and the City” sequels. I just hope that next time around, Carrie & Co. get strict orders from their podiatrists to shelve the Manolos and become more rounded human beings.