Friday, June 20, 2008

Sex and the City

*This review contains major spoilers. If you wish to have a "virgin" movie-watching experience, please return following your screening to read and comment*

Tellingly, I feel compelled to preface this review by stating that I am an unapologetic, die-hard fan of Sex and the City, at least in its television incarnation. I own most of the seasons on DVD and will probably wear out my discs due to compulsive watching. No doubt that this disclaimer is meant to preemptively dodge (or confront?) the allegations of sexism and hypocrisy that have been leveled at male film critics - particularly straight men - who seemingly turned a collective cold shoulder to this much-hyped film adaptation of the hit HBO series. While I agree that a degree of misogyny was certainly present in the media's response to the film, I take some offense at the implication that all male critics and writers who disliked it should automatically placed in the woman-hating camp. That's a much-too simplistic reading, because the film genuinely stinks, no matter which way you slice it. In my opinion, Sex and the City is much ado about nothing, offering no sound justification for its existence (other than the obvious fiscal reasons). By the end credits, I felt like I was back at square one. Director Michael Patrick King's screenplay is a perplexing rehash of the same old, same old - Mr. Big's commitment issues, Miranda's pessimistic view of romance, and Samantha's inability to remain monogamous. We passed the "Best Before" date, and it was years ago, folks.

Picking up four years after the season finale (in which all four gals "found" stability and romance in the form of monogamy), the happenings of Sex take place over the course of a calender year. Writer Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) is back for more adventures in the Big Apple, along with her best friends Charlotte (Kristin Davis), Samantha (Kim Cattrall), and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon). You know the drill... men enter the picture, and chaos ensues. What is perhaps most depressing (and disturbing) about Sex and the City: The Movie is how conservative and regressive it is at the core. From its repulsive insensitivity towards racial politics to its paper-thin characterizations of pretty much everyone (except the exasperating Carrie character), the film spins its wheels in the mud for two-plus hours. The writing is gutless in churning out happy endings for all involved. Charlotte is able to birth a biological child like she always wanted, and Miranda forgives Steve (David Eigenberg) for his indiscretions. Meanwhile, not only does Carrie reconcile with the man (Chris Noth's Mr. Big) who has inflicted non-stop emotional abuse for ten years, but the two of them actually decide to get hitched in spite of the disastrous results of the first attempt (some people just can't take a hint). Once again, marriage is presented as the solution to all problems, flying in the face of the counter arguments articulated from the show's very first few episodes. Samantha's final-act decision to leave her boyfriend Smith (Jason Lewis) in order to love herself is interesting and makes up for her nonsensical behaviour in the final season, but it barely registers with the other gals taking centre stage.

The less said about token African-American Louise (played by Jennifer Hudson), who serves as Carrie's personal assistant, the better. Existing pretty much only to facilitate Carrie's character arc, Louise enters well past the one-hour mark and exits after fulfilling her subservient duties. While it is refreshing to see more a little diversity reflected in this world of outrageous white privilege and displayed wealth, the status quo definitely remains the same. Sex and the City remains hopelessly ignorant of anything outside of its self-contained bubble, and this feeble attempt at inclusiveness rings totally false. The gay characters (also reduced to helpful sidekick status) are treated with even more homo-hatred than usual. Competing queens Stanford (Willie Garson) and Anthony (Mario Cantone) show up only to scurry around in the background, offering a bitchy one-liner when necessary. The worst moment involving these two occurs in a scene in which the two men - who absolutely despised one another during the course of the show - act completely out of character and make out at a New Year's Party. While my audience predictably collapsed into hysterics and hoots, I felt cheated that the filmmakers had taken the easy way out.

Ludicrous plot holes also damage the screenplay's credibility, particularly the scenes leading up to Mr. Big's bout of cold feet. Are we to believe that relationship expert Carrie - even now, after all these years - is unable to detect the reluctance in this non-committal man? Forehead-slappers like "Carrie, I need to know that it's just you and me" would be laugh-aloud funny if they weren't so ghastly when delivered in context. Even more illogical is Miranda's angry aside to Big ("You two are crazy to get married!") playing a factor in his no-show at the alter, set up to generate a future rift between her and Carrie once the the truth is revealed. The entire script is built upon lame contrivances like these, drawing out the conflicts for hours until they can be tidily dealt with and filed away in the concluding moments. The humour, on the other hand, is surprisingly juvenile; when poo jokes and colouring-as-sex euphemisms are set up to garner the big laughs, there's detectable desperation in the air. There is little-to-no sex. The puns are stale. It is a giant commercial for numerous designer labels, Mercedes-Benz, Starbucks, and the Apple Store. (Side note: was there even a budget for the costumes, since drippy name dropping shamelessly occurs throughout?) The straight male characters barely register, coming across as either selfish jerks (Big, Steve), or devoted super-husbands (Harry, portrayed by Evan Handler). It makes no sense. The list of grievances goes on and on...

The four main ladies are all exceptional actors, but Davis, Cattrall and Nixon can only do so much. Davis's interpretation of Charlotte is more of a walking caricature than ever, and her storyline is not as juicy as the other ladies'. Kim Cattrall once again delves into Samantha's aggressive sexuality, allowing herself to be covered with sushi pieces in one scene and - in a bizarre moment - called to task for gaining some weight by her insensitive gal pals. The actress continues to do brilliant work with her face, and her willingness to play clown is commendable as ever. As for the lovely Cynthia Nixon, King and editor Michael Berenbaum box Miranda into such a restrictive corner that the talented artist is unable to give a more nuanced reading. This is not the Miranda who so vibrantly stood out in the past; here, she is like a completely different personality - cold, one-dimensional and just plain petty. Unsurprisingly, Sarah Jessica Parker enjoys the bulk of screen time, and while the capable actor has grown comfortable walking in the character's Blahniks, Carrie is more unappealingly self-absorbed than ever. Jennifer Hudson is robotic, while Chris Noth can barely muster up enough energy to recite his lines with conviction.

I had my reservations about Sex and the City as a feature-length film, but I was not expecting it to be this inept. Even read as a fantasy or as a fluff piece, it still registers as deeply problematic and limiting in its view of these women's professional, professional, and sexual lives. The television show, exaggerated as it may be, still manages to deliver insightful, entertaining commentary about women dealing with ever-shifting gender roles, institutionalized inequality, and sexual politics. This film offers nothing as complex during its running time, instead focusing on inane plot twists and flashy designer pornography, ultimately settling on a farce of a finale that left more than a bitter taste in my mouth. Proceed with caution, particularly the fans - this is not the same show you once loved. D+


Kamikaze Camel said...

Ouch. I definitely liked it much more than you, but two things really annoyed me, only one that you touched upon.

The Stanford storyline was particularly annoying. Those two were always against each other. Ugh.

Also, having watched the series finale just days before seeing the movie I remembered how moving the scenes between Miranda and Steve's mother were, yet there was nary a mention of the mother who in the finale ended up moving in with her son and daughter-in-law.

Anonymous said...

I agree with kamikaze camel! I completely forgot until now how irked I was that they left out Steve's mother. What was with that?

I did actually enjoy the film to a degree (yet I somehow see and agree with everything you say in your review), but maybe that's because I wasn't a die-hard fan of the show.

Yaseen Ali said...

*Spoiler Alert Again*


Apparently, the much talked-about "death" in the film was in regards to Steve's mother. In prior cuts, she is said to have died in a nursing home. I'm not sure if they got around to shooting the reference, or if it was cut from a working draft.

It was left out of the film due to running time issues, along with a lot of other material. Or so I hear.

Kamikaze Camel said...

That makes sense, but they didn't even mention her as far as I recall. No "Well, Steve's mother died two years ago so he's had a rough couple of years" etc.


OUCH is right. I just don't see how this movie is as bad as people make it out to be.

Carrie was NEVER I repeat NEVER a true expert in relationships (she just questioned them a lot in print form) and she was ALWAYS I repeat ALWAYS ridiculously self-absorbed. I thought her character arc here was absolutely true to what came before... and i like that she's still a main character that you're expected to side with and love despite a really glaring character blemish like this. I hate whitewashed characters with no flaws.

yes the Jennifer Hudson stuff is annoying but i take issue with the expectations that they somehow represent racial diversity and a less insular world view. Why? I hate when Woody Allen gets criticized for this too. These are specific world within worlds. They aren't THE WORLD. Were never meant to be.

and i also wonder what TV show people were watching if they're surprised that the movie is conservative about happy endings and sexuality and whatnot.

so was the show. i'm really confused that people didn't see it then.

calvierude said...
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