Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Sex Just Isn't What It Used to Be

There is a moment somewhere in hour twenty-six of Sex and the City 2 when Carrie, accepting an invitation to Abu Dhabi, says something to the effect of, "Finally some glamour in my life." With this embarrassingly earnest statement, her transformation into a petulant, unrelatable asshole is complete.

Way back in 2008, Sex and the City: The Movie was the subject of this blog's inaugural post. (Read it if you must, but I warn you: It sucks.) In it, I explained my convoluted reasons for enjoying a franchise that seemingly has no interest in entertaining me, a hopelessly male human being. Sure, the girls are talky, superficial and, in Carrie's case, inclined to make puns, but I have always embraced its fierce commitment to providing a different perspective on womanhood. The characters were surprisingly likable and human (even the men); the plot lines were insightful and unpredictable; and the overall product was (and remains) unlike anything else on television. Even the first movie toed the line well enough to avoid being an embarrassment.

No such luck the second time around.

The first film suffered from the fact that the characters' stories had already been told; writer/director Michael Patrick King had no new ideas and it took him nearly two and a half hours to prove it. The second film has the exact, same problem, but it also represents the series' degradation into a parody of itself. Where the characters were once human, they are now repellant stereotypes. Where the plot lines were once engaging and honest, they are now tedious and forced. Where the show's overarching and vital wit once was, there is now nothing.

Surely, King had no choice in the matter; a sequel was coming whether he liked it or not. I can forgive him for making an unnecessary movie, but I cannot forgive him for making all of the wrong choices in creating that unnecessary movie. On paper, this movie seems to be about the girls adjusting to new chapters in their lives: Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) is married, Charlotte (Kristin Davis) is a full-on mom, Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is struggling to prioritize her family and Samantha (Kim Cattrall) is back to single life. Most of the characters, in other words, are hitting the doldrums of midlife. To me, this seems like a great opportunity to turn the page – to give the series a proper goodbye – by having the characters let go of their old lifestyle.

Instead, this movie glorifies denial. For the first hour, the girls' fairly obvious midlife crises are convoluted by Kings' horrible screenwriting and direction. One would expect Carrie, for example, to have trouble adjusting to married life. In this movie, good luck figuring out why. She rudely rejects a sweet, but misguided, gift from her husband, "Mr. Big" (Chris Noth), bemoans the mundanity of her life upon returning to her super-chic apartment, and moves out but panics when Big supports the choice. Big, along with the audience, can only stare in awe as Carrie mutates into a caricature of an irrational, moody woman – the very caricature that ignorant critics have always claimed the show glorified. What is the solution to her problems? What is the solution to the other girls' equally ill-defined problems? Naturally, it is escaping to a mysterious, foreign land full of palaces, servants, and strange moral codes.

Yes, our beloved girls travel to Connecticut. In what must be one of the most unnecessary and unfortunate digressions in film history, at least twenty minutes of the movie are devoted to the wedding of the series' two gay characters, Stanford (Willie Garson) and Anthony (Mario Cantone). During this time, every obvious gay joke and stereotype conceivable is mashed together to create one of the most disturbing monuments to ignorance since The Birth of a Nation. I have been told that Michael Patrick King is a gay man himself, but I really do not care; this is some of the most regressive crap I've seen since Michael Bay had his last cinematic bowel movement. The climax of this disaster? A cameo by Liza Minnelli, wherein she dances to her own rendition of Beyoncé's "Single Ladies." The last time I found it this hard to look at the screen, I was being shown Sacha Baron Cohen's anus.

That, however, was a digression of my own, as well. The girls' actual escape is to Abu Dhabi. What follows has best been described as "consumerist porn" – minutes upon minutes of the girls brainlessly running from one absurd show of opulence to the next. Personal limousines! Personal servants! Personal massagers! Next to nothing in the way of plot, theme or character advances during this stretch of time. It seems that King was given a blank check for this film and wanted to take full advantage of it, even if it meant clearing the theater.

Also, the film's representation of Abu Dhabi is suspect at best. I heartily doubt that anyone involved in Sex and the City 2 has ever been to the place. Granted, many UAE resorts are over-the-top in real life, but these scenes practically seemed torn from Aladdin. (Perhaps this is too narrow a criticism, though; the film's New York City rings false, as well. It seems to be a labyrinth of upscale boutiques, restaurants and high rises, devoid of connecting streets and sidewalks. This is just all-around production design diarrhea.)

The movie doesn't merely bungle the physical landscape, though. Under the guise of feminism, Sex and the City 2 takes it upon itself to criticize Arab social mores. None of this struck me as offensive, per se, but it did feel beyond the abilities of this moronic script. Miranda occasionally nags Samantha about showing too much skin but, in reality, none of the girls' appearances would pass muster under Sharia law. Besides, they spend most of their time in a resort where, one assumes, such rules would not apply. With this film perpetuating more stereotypes about American women than it breaks down, perhaps the cultural condescension should be left to better movies.

Worst of all, King manages to give us fleeting reminders of better times with these characters. When Charlotte and Miranda finally settle down long enough to discuss their frustrations, the conversation is funny, endearing and honest. Unfortunately, King is utterly ignorant of his own strengths; simple conversations are rare in a film that prefers close-up shots of bouncing body parts (female and otherwise), blunt-as-hell musical cues, and other assorted histrionics.

And Carrie? Never redeemed. The film just rolls over and dies at some point near the three hour mark. None of the foggy plot lines are given interesting conclusions, and none of the characters seem to have grown. As the film announces "The End," Carrie narrates some meaningless metaphor about colors and relationships, and I am left hating a character I once respected.

This is a husk of what Sex and the City once was. If anyone involved has common sense, they will stop driving this series into the ground. If the mentalities of excess and delusion that fuel this movie are any indication, however, we're in for many more sequels.

1 comment:

Mike (that one you went to high school with) said...

I haven't seen the film, because I'm afraid I'll cut myself afterwards. But I wanted to add that the fact that in an early season of the show, there was an episode where Charlotte tries to hook up her gay male friend with Carrie's gay male friend, and they get along horribly; the point of the episode being that Charlotte realizes, because it's literally explained to her, that it's not only stupid but mildly offensive to assume that just because you know two gay people they should date. It was kind of humorous to show those same two characters hooking up at the end of the first movie, leaving it at that, but all I could think of while watching the trailer for the sequel where there there is a clip in which Charlotte herself says the actual line, "MY gay best friend and HER gay best friend are getting married", was "Oh. Wow. They've literally gone out of there way to undo the very same progressive thinking they were trying to (I guess) create for six years. And then I saw clips of the wedding and actually felt regression in the air around me.

and Happy Birthday Matt!