Monday, May 31, 2010

Sex and the City 2

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the women of Sex and the City, but they make it awfully hard to feel the love these days. Like a copy of a copy made on a bad machine, each episode or movie since the last year or so of the TV show has been cruder than the last. Sex and the City 2 is close to unwatchable.

Twelve years after the TV series debuted, the four best friends are still a collection of one or two character traits each – Samantha the sex machine, Miranda the type A lawyer, good-girl Charlotte, and perky Carrie, the writer who’s spinning these stories by twisting together strands from their lives. A lot has been written about how the four – especially Samantha – are really gay men in drag, what Seattle Stranger reviewer Lindy West nicely summed up as “giant Barbie dolls” being manipulated by their gay creators. (Columnist and novelist Candace Bushnell based the characters on herself and her friends, but they were reworked for the screen by Darren Star and Michael Patrick Smith, who wrote and directed Sex and the City 2.)

A certain kind of gay sensibility probably does account for the show’s focus on 24/7 fabulousness and high fashion, which leads to ludicrous situations like Charlotte wearing a “vintage Valentino” skirt in SATC2 to bake cupcakes with her pre-school-age daughters. It probably also explains why these BFFs defend each other so fiercely, in a world that can’t be trusted to appreciate or nurture them. As Samantha puts it, in SATC2, “We made a deal ages ago. Men, babies, doesn’t matter. We’re soulmates.”

That unshakeable bond is what I’ve always loved about SATC. What woman wouldn’t love to be part of a posse for life who can be counted on to run to her side whenever she needs them? It’s the female version of Entourage.

I’m right there for that part of the fantasy, but I hate the consumerist part, which is supposed to be a lot of SATC's appeal. I could roll with it for the first few years of the TV series, when the four were still single and most were struggling financially. SATC was always an escapist fantasy, so they looked great and lived well even then, but you knew Carrie had to make sacrifices to buy those $500 shoes.

Besides, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen a movie grind to a halt while a pretty woman went on a shopping spree, I’d have enough to buy one of those big diamond bracelets myself, so I can take a certain amount of that in stride. At least the women in SATC usually bought their own stuff, and getting and spending wasn’t the whole focus of their lives. But as they’ve have gotten richer, their conspicuous consumption has gotten downright disgusting. The camera in the SATC movies is forever ogling clothes and real estate with nosebleed-high price tags. The main object of desire in SATC2 is their tacky $22,000-a-night Abu Dhabi hotel suite, complete with a separate butler for each one. As Matt Zoller Seitz put it, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is why they hate us.”

That and what Wajahat Ali in Salon called the movie’s “stunning Muslim clichés” and its minstrel-like approach to gay male culture, which some gay men find offensive. But the movie’s worst sin, in my eyes, is how badly it treats its main characters and how their strident insistence on self-empowerment can turn even a girl-power advocate like me into a skeptic.

Sarah Jessica Parker used to radiate a warmth and vulnerability that made Carrie endearing even when she was spouting fortune-cookie aphorisms in her sophomoric voiceovers. She may not have been as deep as she thought she was, but she was being true to herself. Now Carrie seems neurotic, nagging her husband of two years, the callow Big (Chris Noth) to get off the couch and go out with her for fear of turning into a boring married couple. And Samantha is a boor and a bore, the aggressive sexuality that used to seem bold now more of a tiresome obsession. Her fixation on her own vagina makes her so culturally insensitive that I couldn’t root for either side when the movie pitted her against the kind of Middle Eastern men who hate sexually assertive women.

Carrie and her girlfriends used to wrestle with real problems, like whether to have kids or how to balance your job with the rest of your life. It was important stuff and they took a while to figure it out, hurting themselves or people they loved in the process. The movies assign each woman one problem, which is neatly resolved by the final credits.

Much as I hate to judge a woman for her physical appearance, ignoring how the SATC women look would be like failing to notice the violence in the Saw movies. So it must be said that Samantha is dressing too young and looking desperate as a result, as people try to tell her in a gruesome sequence that starts in some high-end store and winds up on the red carpet with Miley Cyrus. And Carrie, who kept her girlish charm for so long, is also starting to show her age. Not that there's anything wrong with that, or that she isn't still gorgeous, but her flouncy skirts and flowing curls look a little out of place on her ropy frame and leathery face. The camera’s penchant for crotch shots and an unironic use of slow motion as people walk toward the camera also feel old.

When a book of Carrie’s gets a nasty review in SATC2 her friends spin the news, assuring her that the reviewer was threatened by a strong female voice. Their support would be touching if they weren’t so wrong. It’s past time for their old friend to come up with a new shtick.


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  2. Too bad they sank to this sorry state. I must admit I liked them best post surgery when heavily drugged. Your comments about the consumerism are very apt. I hate that about Real Housewives of (you name the place). It seems part of our cultural breakdown as the rich consume more and the poor less that we all be expected to find watching the consumption satisfying rather than sick making.
    your sister in Oregon