Sex and the City (2008)
On the last day of May, my younger son was flipping through the movie section of the newspaper when he looked up with sad eyes: "All month, we had good movies -- "Iron Man," "Speed Racer," "Prince Caspian," "Indiana Jones" -- but then … this," he intoned, unable to bring himself to utter the words "Sex and the City." "What happened?"
Indeed, across America, countless guys felt that the Manly Month of May, when the biggest explosion-laden blockbusters are unveiled at the multiplex, was being tainted by the long lines of ladies attending the film version of the 1998-2004 HBO sitcom. "Sex and the City" updates us on a coven of four skanky spinsters who, long ago, moved to Manhattan to find "labels and love" (there apparently being no stores or men in Minnesota or wherever).
Inside the theatre, the palpable affection toward the characters was reminiscent of a 1980s "Star Trek" movie, whose fans couldn't wait to hear Scotty exclaim one more time, "She cannae take any more!" Granted, the movie version of "Sex and the City" isn't as witty as "Star Trek IV." It's also grindingly long at 148 minutes -- the DVD ought to include a "Couples' Cut" with an hour edited out and a few dozen more jokes tossed in. Still, it's certainly no worse than the "Matrix" sequels and "Star Wars" prequels that males turned out to see by the tens of millions.
The stars aren't getting any younger, so sit in the back row. Hollywood has generations of experience lighting actresses of a certain age, though, and the three supporting women look passable, even Cynthia Nixon (who plays the prickly redheaded Miranda), whom I pointed out to my wife in 1998 was an obvious lesbian. (It took Nixon until 2003 to figure it out for herself.)
In contrast, "Sex and the City's" leading lady, purported fashion icon Sarah Jessica Parker, who portrays columnist Carrie Bradshaw, looks horrifying, like a bulimic bodybuilder. Evidently fearing matronly upper arms, the 43-year-old with zero percent body fat appears to have spent the last four years bench pressing and not eating, giving her the grotesquely defined arm musculature of Rambo after the Bataan Death March. Her horse chin and witch nose have become even more prominent, making me wonder whether, like Sylvester Stallone, who was recently arrested smuggling Human Growth Hormone into Australia, she's on some muscle-building medicine with head-enlarging side effects.
In the climactic scene in which bowlegged Carrie reunites with her true love, the financier Mr. Big (played by an embalmed-looking Chris Noth from Law & Order), Parker's cheesy fur coat and stick insect legs jutting out of her tiny skirt make her resemble a streetwalking crack addict. The sequence is a masterpiece of the memento mori genre, a terrifying depiction of the skull beneath the skin. Unfortunately, it's supposed to be a romantic comedy.
As hideous as Parker looks, the "Sex and the City" movie is actually less repugnant than the TV series. Each of the four women is monogamous throughout the year covered in the film. That's typical for rom-com movies these days, which are about living happily ever after. In contrast, the TV show just went on and on for six years, with the bodycounts (and, presumably, STDs) piling up.
The 1998 TV series was to Helen Fielding's 1996 novel Bridget Jones's Diary as Dick Wolf's 1990 TV show Law & Order was to Tom Wolfe's 1987 novel Bonfire of the Vanities. Wolf made a fortune by taking Wolfe's sardonic story of New York cops and prosecutors hunting for "the Great White Defendant" and stripping out all the satire. Similarly, the gay male writers behind Sex and the City started with Fielding's spoof of "urban families" of stylish single women who undermine each other's chances of landing a husband by constantly gathering over drinks to nitpick their boyfriends, and turned these mutually-destructive circles into a fantasy about friendship.
It was never actually about female solidarity, but about female competition for alpha males like Mr. Big. Nevertheless, women hate to be seen as competitive, so "Sex and the City" displayed the nice side of cliquishness, minus the nasty side: these social X-rays wouldn't be seen dead in the company of 99 percent of their fans.
The trick was to make women viewers feel less awful about the big mistakes they've made in their lives by making their bad decisions feel fashionable. Misery loves company.
Rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language.
June 2, 2010
I haven't quite gotten around to seeing the savagely-reviewed Sex and the City II, but I must mention that I was already engaging in protracted abuse of Sarah Jessica Parker's looks back in 2008, back when most critics were praising the first movie. Since I never got around to posting my full-length review in The American Conservative of the first movie, here it is for completists:
And here's Manohla Dargis mad about how sexist is the response to SatC II.