Friday, May 30, 2008
Going to the screening of Sex and the City (from here on in referred to by its acronym SATC ) was like going to a foreign country where you don't know the customs and you don't speak the language. So to help familiarize me with this strange planet, Nicole Lozare came with me to the screening. She has not missed one episode of the HBO show based on Candace Bushnell's book; she confessed to crying at the last episode; and she even went home to change so she could wear the appropriate shoes for the screening. It was actually because she so desperately wanted to see the film that I even ended up going. She took great care to recap the entire six seasons, providing me with character arcs on each of the girls, briefing me on each one's fashion style, and explaining all the brand names I would need to know. With this, I felt well equipped for the movie.
But the film does try to offer a kind of intro/recap so those with no knowledge of the show won't be completely lost. An opening title sequence - with a voiceover narration and with clips from the cable show - helps establish the personalities of the four main characters and the central drama in each one's life. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) narrates the film and guides us along. She's a writer who's been involved in an on again/off again romance with Mr. Big (Chris Noth), a kind of junior Donald Trump but sexier. Now after ten years the two may actually tie the knot. Samantha (Kim Cattrall) is the oldest of the group and the one who is the most sexually liberated but at the moment she is trying valiantly to maintain a monogamous relationship with a hunky Hollywood star that she's managing. Charlotte (Kristin Davis) hasn't had any success getting pregnant so she now has an adopted Asian daughter and the whole family seems quite content. And Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) spends the whole film unable to get past her hubby's confession of a one-night stand.
Kristin Davis, Kim Cattrall and Cynthia Nixon (New Line Cinema)
On Thursday afternoon I saw women already buying tickets for a midnight screening of SATC so I understand that there's a rabid fan base for the film. Adult women are obsessive about this show the way Trekkies are about Star Trek, and that's a rarity for that demographic . So Hollywood will be watching the turn out carefully. The excitement felt by fans was evidenced in the way some women dressed up for the advance screening. At that screening, there was also a "live" countdown to the pink carpet event at the film's New York premiere (but since the tape of the pink carpet was playing as we entered and was replayed "live" at 7:30 I think we can assume the event in New York had already occurred). But you could hear oohs and aahs as Parker arrived in a fairy princess gown and gasps as Jennifer Hudson practically fell out of her dress. Then there were cheers for the flamboyant designer Patricia Field.
My friend informed me that for her, the show was empowering because it allowed women to talk openly about sex and, more importantly, it said it was okay to be single and thirty. Okay, I guess I can buy that. But based on the movie (and maybe the show was different but the movie has to stand on its own) I can see nothing empowering in these women as they cop out to every female clich e imaginable. They are obsessed with appearances; worry about getting an ounce of fat; spend far too much money on clothes and shoes they can't afford; and do little more than wallow in self-pity that their comfortable lives aren't better. Plus they want all the most traditional things in life -- Mr. Right, a gorgeous home, a career, kids who don't get in the way of their needs, and a monogamous relationship. Gee whiz, sounds an awful lot like what women were told they wanted to have in the fifties. I was hoping something more than premarital sex had changed since Doris Day. Even the careers these women have don't seem very empowering because they seem so tangential to who they are. These woman may have careers but the work they do isn't much a part of their character nor does it seem to define them in meaningful ways. Again, maybe it was different so in the series. I just kept thinking that I gave up seeing a new 35mm print of the 1962 Bond film Dr. No to attend this SATC preview, and I think Ursula Andress' Honeychile Ryder serves as a far more empowering female image than any of these women. Feminists love to complain about the women in Bond films being demeaning or misogynistic but at least they got to kick some ass and never whined about relationships. I find the women in SATC far more demeaning because they pretend to give us strong, liberated, modern women but the images are painfully limiting and clich ed.
Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Mr. Big (Chris Noth) in Sex and the City (New Line Cinema)
In the end what we're told these women want is the fairy tale happy ending. But it's like they are waiting for that happiness to drop in their designer laps. These women have it sooo easy. Take the kids that Miranda and Charlotte have, they are like props that are there when you need them and miraculously vanish when you want to travel south of the border for a vacation. I don't think the kids in this film have more than a dozen lines or do much of anything except be there when the women need to feel fulfilled as moms. Come to think of it, the men in the film are no more than props either. They're just plot devices, playthings and things for the women to talk about. In the end, the film feels quite hollow, and if you tapped its sleek shiny surface the whole thing would shatter and there would be nothing inside.
I spent most of the film's 148 minutes just wanting to slap these women because I grew weary of their whining. Miranda tosses her nice hubby out after a single night of guilty extramarital sex and then spends the rest of the film bitching about what a bastard he was. Com'on, it's just one sexual encounter and Miranda wasn't putting out or even willing to discuss sex, so why is she so unwilling to even talk to her husband to try and work things out. Plus at least teh guy was honest and fessed up to his infidelity. Then Carrie spends a week sulking over her off again relationship with Mr. Big. Geez, just get out of bed and do something! Get over it, talk to the person you have issues with and clear the air. But all this moping around is boring. Plus Mr. Big (whom I can't imagine maintaining this rocky relationship for six seasons) is so wishy-washy. The film implies that one off handed comment from one of the girlfriends is enough to give him cold feet about marriage - how lame. Plus why the big deal about getting married in the first place. The movie makes marriage seem like the brass ring as well as something that just ruins everything. But since these people seem incapable of real commitments and all relationships depicted come across as so tenuous that they could break at any moment, maybe they do need marriage as an official seal of approval that they really are in a relationship. In the world the film creates, only the girls matter. Those are the only relationships you can count on and even those prove difficult at times.
Writer-director Michael Patrick King tries to cram a lot into the two-hour-plus film, as if he wants to make sure and cover everything fans will want to see on the big screen. But his script seems more concerned with finding excuses for fashion shows than with creating meaningful character development. So Carrie's need to pack prompts a romp through her closet of memories, providing an excuse to wear funky clothes from the first season. Then there's a real runway for models during fashion week and a photo spread in Vogue that allows for a parade of bridal gowns. I think the only reason the characters drag out their relationship problems for months and moths is so that the film can take us through an entire four seasons of fashion. King also deliberately frames shots to include feet so we can admire those all-important shoes. But since the most I've ever paid for shoes was $35 for some Converse high tops (but Converse if a brand name, right?), all this fashion is somewhat lost on me. Half the time I was just thinking how ridiculous some of these costumes were and how I wouldn't be caught dead in them. But fashion and designer labels are so important to the women of SATC , that Jennifer Hudson's financially challenged assistant rents designer bags just to seem more fashionable.
When the film sticks to comedy, it succeeds better than when it tries for drama. There are some sharp lines, especially from Samantha. King also creates some funny circumstances and displays a willingness to go places that others may fear to tread - like having one character poop in her pants to break Carrie out of her depression or the shock at one woman's unwillingness to bikini wax after marriage. But when the film wants to wring emotions, its shallowness shows painfully through. Maybe King is hoping that six years of character development during the cable series will compensate, but that will only work for fans of the show.
As for the performers, they seem well entrenched in their characters after years of playing them. Cattrall (whom I loved in Big Trouble in Little China ) I find the most enjoyable and the one least prone to annoying wallowing in self-pity. Nixon comes across as shrill and brittle, and the film allows her little variation from this. Davis, who seems to have gotten a kind of fairy tale life for Charlotte, ends up just being perky. Parker still hasn't won me over, although she's less grating in this than she's been in films like The Family Stone. But you could hear the audience gasp when Parker removes her sunglasses after a good cry and looks like sh-t, as if "Wow she must really be acting if she's letting herself look that bad."
But overall, the film has a remarkable lack of diversity in its casting. I don't know if the film's casting reflects the TV show but without the late addition of Jennifer Hudson, this would be a lily-white movie. New York is renowned for its racial diversity but you'd never guess it from this film, Sure there's an occasional black, brown or yellow face in the background but none with any significant role to play. And Hudson's character is imported from St. Louis and quickly shipped back out after she serves her purpose as the token ethnic character in the film. And gays don't get much better treatment. It would also be nice to see the gay men in the film used as more than just comic relief.
Sex and the City (rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language) may have the potential to pull women out in larger numbers than we've seen in the past, and if that's the case be ready for more films of this ilk and maybe a sequel. I see little crossover appeal for men, but many may be forced to attend if they want to keep their relationships going. For me, the bottom line is that I just don't get the world SATC creates. I don't get wearing pearls to bed, I don't get wanting to spend $400 on a pair of shoes that are impossible to walk in, and I don't get placing such a high value on marriage as an institution that validates a relationship. But then my friend and SATC fan enjoyed the film and wept when Carrie got her dream walk-in closet (basically the size of my house). But for those of us who have not been fans, and who can't tell Louis Vuitton from Louis XIV, this film will more than likely bore you to tears. Now when is Hellboy II opening?
Companion viewing: Sex in the City (TV series), Mary Tyler Moore Show (TV series), That Girl (TV series), The Devil Wears Prada, Forgetting Sarah Marshall