Sex and the City 2
Director: Michael Patrick King
Starring: Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon, Chris Noth
Second sequel to the HBO show and key evidence in Kim Cattrall's defamation case against Michael Patrick King.
You know that conversation where you're saying that someone is overly fixated on fashion and consumer goods and the other person says "There's nothing wrong with wanting to look good." And then you reply "Right, but why does the expensive thing look 'good,' and the cheap thing look 'bad?' It's because marketers have brainwashed us to believe that only high-priced items look 'good.'" And then they stare at you, maybe blink a few times, and say: "There's nothing wrong with looking good." Watching this movie is a little bit like that conversation, extended to an unforgivable two-and-a-half hours.
I never watched the show, but my understanding is that the four characters were presented as something more than vapid animated skeletons lost to an unattainable consumerist fantasy, and actually had characters with relatable problems who occasionally had thoughts. My understanding is that in the first movie all of that was lost and the series became the embodiment of the negative stereotype about the show, and that this installment got even worse.
I also remember a brief kerfuffle when Lauren Bacall or someone said the show isn't about women--it's about gay men living a vicarious fantasy through women--and WOAH is that true in this case. The movies are solely the responsibility of opely gay Michael Patrick King, who took over the show after its first few seasons. So let's just keep that in the back of our minds as we proceed.
We open with narration by Carrie as we go through the credits, during which she talks about how she met the other three characters, and we briefly see them all in 80s fashions, which is apparently supposed to make us whoop with laughter. There will be a great deal of whooping expected of you, the audience, and performed by the people onscreen. Then off to the gay wedding of two people from the show. This is let us know right off the bat that being gay [and desperately consumerist] is A-OK with our four main characters. The wedding is happening at the requisite gorgeous Connecticut house right on the ocean with an insanely over-the-top white theme to this massive backyard environment with a fake stream with real swans and fake bridge, etc.
Okay, now we have to divert to the real world for a moment--already, I know. One of the sad realities of gay life is that many gays take it as a requirement to attempt to make "witty banter" in the tradition of Oscar Wilde, etc. The tragic real-world consequences ensue from the reality that not many people possess the INTELLECT of Oscar Wilde, but that does not prevent them from spouting out would-be bon mots. And there truly is little worse than a dumb queen who won't shut up in his efforts at witticism. Which brings us directly to: THIS SCRIPT. It's full of people making moronic attempts at wit or imbicilic puns, then waiting a beat with an arch face while we all take it all in. Here's an example: Samantha walks into the gay wedding with a small dog in her bag, saying "What's one more bitch with an attitude?" Someone exhorts her to "Be more PC" [while you at home say "But... that was just crass, not really un-PC"]. Then one of the grooms comes up and says the elaborate wedding setting "Looks like the snow queen exploded," and Mr. Big responds "How's that for PC?" And you at home shake your head like: "Um, that wasn't un-PC at ALL. It was just snarky. 'Politically Incorrect' implies that there is some political or social content. Does this guy even know what 'Politically Incorrect' MEANS?" But no, he does not. This trend continues through the film in the form of Carrie's narration. You will recall that Carrie is supposedly a writer, which implies that she has some sort of insight to offer--not evident here--and that others find what she says valuable enough to buy her books. You know, at a certain point there's just so many levels of wrong here it's prohibitive to go into them all.
Carrie is then asked to wear Gothic architecture on her head during the wedding, after which Liza Minelli comes out and sings a rendition of "Single Ladies." Carrie meets one of the suckers who reads her books and values what she has to "say," but is shocked that Carrie and Big do not plan to have kids. One detail that goes by quickly is that the woman is having children through a surrogate, perhaps because having a child makes you, like, FAT. Anyway, Carrie seems to have some sort of "thoughts" about not having kids, and how it'll be just her and Big from now on.
That evening Samantha is heard having loud sex that can be heard from all bedrooms and on the house grounds, which is presented as how uninhibited she is--not how inconsiderate she is being. During this time Carrie and Big watch an old B&W movie on TV, which is supposed to be a nice moment of intimacy, but we cut away from it so fast it doesn't have a chance to register as such.
The next morning we introduce a storyline thread that exists only for the purpose of giving Charlotte a narrative thread: Her young nanny has huge boobs and never wears a bra, and she fears that her husband's eye will stray. The movie supplies many embarassing shots of the nanny running and jumping sans bra and in tight thin T shirts, apparently intended to generate whoops in the audience. We have another instance of what these characters mistake for wit when Charlotte says "there ought to be a law" against sexy nannies and Carrie responds "The Jude Law." Then they all titter as though something intelligent was said? A moment after this Samantha throws a ton of pills into her mouth and makes some comment about how she's used to swallowing huge loads.
You may wish to remove all sharp objects you may be moved to jab your eyes out with from your viewing area prior to viewing.
Which brings us to the nominal "plot" and the women's "issues." Despite her fears about her nanny, Charlotte is having trouble handling her two kids. We see her in her insanely upscale kitchen making giga-cupcakes--the whole thing is so extensive and perfect it looks like a Martha Stewart photo shoot--and she has a mini-breakdown when one of the kids puts frosting handprints on her "vintage Valentino" skirt. First, of all, why are you wearing your vintage Valentino to make cupcakes, YOU IDIOT? Secondly, I guess we're supposed to sympathize with her upscale problems, that she has this huge enormous house and nanny, but still has to endure minor inconvenience? She later voices disbelief that some women raise kids without domestic help, a touch I THINK was intended to be a nod of acknowledgement to the everyday women in the audience, but misfired badly by making the characters come off as monstrously sheltered and priviledged prima donnas. Both of these plant this movie squarely in the company of other movies aimed at women that actually do nothing but undermine and insult women.
But Carrie's having her own "problems," which only simmer in the background, but even so manage to be the most insidiously offensive thing about the movie. She has been married to Mr. Big for two years--a MERE two years--yet is starting to feel unsatisfied because every single second isn't quite a magical Tiffany's moment. You see, the huge problem is that Big wants to stay in some nights. THAT is the problem. This, however, would preclude Carrie from showing off her high-fashion outfits in exclusive events and high-end restaurants. She also fears that ONE night spent at home on the couch means they are going to become trailer trash watching reality television while popping Cheetos and sipping Big Gulps. I suppose we are meant to sympathize with her in some way, but the reality, glaring to everyone but Michael Patrick King, is that Carrie wouldn't have these problems if she weren't a vapid all-consuming black hole of narcissism that find expression through relentless searching for temporary relief through the most superficial and empty satisfactions. When we see her at home, she has NOTHING to do except re-organize her shoes. Other than that [and write an article for Vogue] she seems quite ill-at-ease in her own home, which probably wouldn't be the case if she had were capable of READING A BOOK. But then who would admire her glamorous outfit if she were just sitting there reading a book?
BUT WAIT, IT GETS WORSE! So soon it's Carrie and Big's anniversary, and she buys him a vintage Rolex with an inscription. He buys her a flat-screen TV for the bedroom, with the stated purpose of allowing them to snuggle in bed as they watch old movies. Carrie is clearly mortified, and is rude enough to let him know. She says "A piece of jewelry would have been nice," and this deserves calling out: She is explicitly stating that she would prefer to have [another] shiny inanimate object than an object meant to facilitate intimate time spent TOGETHER with her husband. They soon talk about how to maintain the "sparkle" in their marriage [their TWO-YEAR-OLD marriage], which to Carrie means they go out on the town a lot and stay busy, rather than stay home and have to spend intimate time in each other's company. Which makes sense, as their entire marriage seems to be made up of mugging and extra-special moments--no basic everyday living and comfort with each other as PEOPLE. After two days apart, Big shows that he's back with the program by picking her up in a shiny car and whisking her to an expensive dinner where she can show off her dress and get the attention from strangers she so desperately needs to maintain her sense of self.
But there's one other thing to mention: Carrie spent two days in her old apartment [which she apparently maintains because they have so much money to throw away], and went there for two days to get some distance from her boring husband. When she returns, Big suggests that they keep the "sparkle" alive by spending two days a week apart, because without kids and not planning to have any, they "have the luxury to design their own lives." This could also fall into the category of gay issues being put into straight women's mouths, as gays traditionally have had to contend with the reality of not having children and having no socially-sanctioned pattern for how to live their lives--although admittedly this was a bigger issue before the prevalence of gay parents and gay marriage.
Okay, now it's off to Abu Dhabi! Some contrivance gets the four of them an all-expense-paid trip at the zenith of luxury. King has stated that this storyline was partially to avoid the reality of the recession in this country, which is like SO dreary. After they arrive they find that they each have their own Mercedes, which is treated as the height of luxury--I'm sure I need not inform you that the egregious environmental waste is not considered--but, don't they want to talk to each other? Is it really better to be all by yourself in your own car? Oh I forgot--if they want to talk, they can use their cells!
So Miranda gets in her car saying "There's a lot of Abu Dhabi to do! Abu-Dhabi-doo!" I can only guess that this is supposed to be wit? We have had discussion about how women in Abu Dhabi must not dress in sexually-provocative ways, with shoulders and legs uncovered, which our Western heroines look on as socially-backward. And of course, this is a problem for Samantha, who is getting to be like an aging drag queen off her meds, rolling her eyes, gasping, preening and making eyes at every cute male in sight. There is an embarassing moment in which she is leering after a team of Austrialian swimmers and we get not one but two shots of their Speedo-clad crotches. Charlotte has spent the last 20 minutes of the movie staring at her iPhone. Then they all need to change into high-end gowns in order to ride camels in the desert. Samantha throws herself at a visiting architect, afterward calling him "Lawrence of my labia." By the way, in here Carrie has gone to a market and was stupid enough to absently leave her PASSPORT on the counter, then forget it.
That night at karaoke they all sing a rendition of "I Am Woman," which I believe will supply a weeks worth of discussion to women's studies graduate classes on how feminism has been fully co-opted by marketing. Then Carrie finds her new book reviewed--and panned--in The New Yorker. She is all upset, although Samantha surmises that the critic is probably male [we never find out for sure] and that Carrie has "a strong female voice and he's intimidated." Yes, that must be it. It can't be, as the movie itself has given us much evidence to deduce, that Carrie in fact HAS nothing of worth to utter, and two years is a little early to spart whining about the old marriage blues. In here, however, is the one and only genuinely nice scene in the film, in which Charlotte and Miranda have a quiet, intimate conversation.
Meanwhile, Samantha is out on a date with the architect. She puts a water pipe in her mouth and simulates fellatio, then starts groping the architect's crotch. A local couple is becoming enraged at the breach of propriety, so Samantha and the guy decide to go to the beach. When the man stands, we get a full-on shot of his erect penis tenting out his trousers. She and the man are arrested, but the hotel owner bails her out--a condom falling out of her passport when she hands it over. Their free stay at the hotel is rescinded, so they decide to leave--only Carrie doesn't have her passport. She knows it's waiting for her at the market because--this is always one of my favorite logical chains of the less-intelligent--"it has to be." And of course, it is.
But by now Samantha has had enough of the local customs and goes to the market in a tank top and shorts. People get upset, and at a certain point her purse falls to the ground, spilling out condoms [all Magnum, natch]. She grabs them, makes thrusting motions with her hips, and screams to the crowd "Yes! I have SEX!" The four are now persued by a crowd, but four local women in burkas hide them. These women soon lift their burkas to reveal expensive designer dresses underneath, and one is reading the same Suzanne Somers diet book as Samantha. Wow--Arabic women are just as superficial as us! Our heroines return home without a hitch.
We have a final coda in which Mr. Big reveals that he was all torn up over a kiss Carrie had with earlier beau Aidan [a subplot I didn't even go into], so Big is going to give her what she wants more than anything--a new piece of jewelry. He then says to her the same thing earlier beau Aidan said: "You're not like anyone else." This, based on the evidence of this film, is blatantly untrue, and having two men in the same film say the same thing implies that this represents some sort of female wish-fulfillment. She compromises as well, and we see her snuggled on the couch for a quiet evening in--wearing a massive designer gown.
Ugh. It seems a lot of what's wrong here is self-evident, but I suppose we have to actually call it out. This joins Bride Wars and He's Just Not That Into You on the list of movies that supposedly support women while actually undermining them, but this one goes several steps further in adding cultural insult to the mix. The only consolation is that critics and audiences saw it and called it on what it is.
First, I know the characters may have been thoughtful strong women on the show, but now they are just vapid, priviledged whiners and hollow shells of consumerism. The movie undercuts women by attempting to hold them up as beacons of feminism. Samantha says that the New Yorker writer is intimidated by Carrie's "strong female voice," but everything we've heard of that voice gives creedence to the critic as being absolutely right, and casts the defense of men being intimidated by strong women as just so much hot air. Then to have them sing feminist anthem "I Am Woman" after the entire movie has shown them fussing over trifling concerns, consistently eschewing inner qualities over external appearance and wardrobe, and Carrie in particular pursuing some ethereal dream of what marriage should be like--one sold to her by the consumerist world she exists in--and ecshewing quality, intimate time with her husband over another piece of jewelry--all this does is make feminism look like a crock of shit. This movie ends up casting feminism as a specious defense women throw up when they don't get their way.
Then there's the cultural differences issue. Okay, you may think it's backwards for women to have to cover their bodies in other cultures, but it's just plain disrespectful and rude [and insensitive and inconsiderate] to flaunt your values when in their country. It doesn't make our characters look like courageous free-thinkers, but like inconsiderate boobs. And it's just ludicrous and insulting fantasy to imagine Arabic women just as obsessed with high-end fashion and body image. If they are, this is a TRAGEDY, not a sign of their independence. It goes without saying that none of our main characters seem to relect at all on their actions. For this movie, feminism means expecting respect and deference while having no responsibility in return.
The whole thing just seems like a massive miscalculation. It seems to have dropped the idea of audience relatability to thoughtful women characters and gone whole-hog on the consumerist wish-fulfillment angle. I also think it made a bad miscalculation in skewing so heavily gay, as the point of view is so off. While it's true that women and gays have traditionally been supportive of each other's issues, that doesn't mean that they are one and the same. This results in the expectation that we are supposed to whoop in naughty delight when gaping at the architect's prominent public erection or Samantha's many lusty come-ons--and I'm sure many do whoop--but I think the majority of the audience cringe in embarassment. For themselves, not the characters.
Useful for women's studies courses, but not much else.