It's not the worst movie of the year, it's not a mockery of feminism, and it's certainly not the end of Western Civilization. It's SEX AND THE CITY, and it is, as ever, decadent, silly and not worth a great deal of contemplation.
So why bother with the sequel when I loathed the first film and, save for a couple of decent seasons, thought very little of the show? Well, when you read a perfectly pissed-off evisceration like the one fired off - and spread all over the internet - by The Stranger's Lindy West, you're obliged as a professional film viewer to peer through the sewer grate to see if the sludge is as glowingly toxic as its purported to be. It's a precarious task to be sure, but it's worth it when the muck bubbles up and you find yourself coated in something as gloriously noxious as SHOWGIRLS.
No such luck this time. It's just the same ol' cosmopolitan extravagance that got misguidedly championed as female empowerment for far too many seasons on HBO. The difference this this time is that writer-director Michael Patrick King has basically plopped the four fashionistas into a Hope/Crosby ROAD picture - which means the rampant consumerism and culturally insensitive actions of its characters carry all the metaphorical weight of a pratfall. When Samantha flaunts her flesh in the middle of a posh Abu Dhabi restaurant, it's a bit, not a political statement; the same goes for her condom-waving rant in the middle of a crowded bazaar (now, had King written in the threat of a stoning, then we'd have something to talk about).
SEX AND THE CITY 2 exists as mindless summer escapism for a certain segment of the moviegoing public; like IRON MAN 2, it evaporates the second you walk out of the theater. And while I'll never, ever watch it again, I have to admit that - even at 146 minutes - it passed by more quickly than Favreau's plodding sequel. It's not a well-made film, but it's completely innocuous and diverting enough for what it is. (Where was all this outrage when the truly rancid IT'S COMPLICATED was drawing mixed-to-positive reviews last December?)
And now I'll turn you over to my friend Sarah, a smart and talented writer who's also puzzled by the overwhelming opprobrium inspired by SEX AND THE CITY 2...
Before we get started on SEX AND THE CITY 2, before we talk about what works, what fails, and how Michael Patrick King has managed to both destroy and save the Sex and the City franchise over the past twelve years, one thing needs to be clear because too many reviewers have irresponsibly (and offensively) confused two different items of dress.
An abaya is not a burqa. An abaya worn with a hijab (headscarf) is still not a burqa. An abaya worn with an niqab (face scarf) is still not a burqa. An abaya is meant to be worn over clothing as a wrap, as they traditionally do not have any sort of fastener. A burqua is a covering that goes over the head, over the hijab, often has a screen to cover the eyes, and can either be shoulder length or it can reach all the way to the ground.
This will be important information to have later on in this review.
When we last left Carrie and Mr. Big, they were celebrating their simple New York City Hall wedding with their friends at a simple New York City diner after their over-the-top wedding plans and over-the-top penthouse had almost destroyed their relationship. It's now two years later, and they've moved into a smaller apartment and their daily routine of take-out dinner and the couch in front of the TV has worn a little thin on Carrie. "The Girls" have their own new set of problems. Charlotte's dream of motherhood is turning out to be nightmare of screaming children and a bra-less young nanny, Miranda's legal career grows even more taxing under a boss she believes is slighting her, and Samantha is fighting menopause against the most ruthless of bitches, Mother Nature.
Carrie and Big, like all relationships, have always inhabited a world entirely of their own with their own rules and it is surprising when their decisions are questioned by outsiders. In an incongruous scene at the most flamboyant wedding since Princess Di's -- that just happens to be for two gay men with officiant Liza Minnelli bopping away to "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" -- a fan of Carrie's writing is flustered when it is revealed that she and Big do not plan on having children. And there the question lies; how do you keep the sparkle when it is and always will be just the two of you, and in the film, literally between hot sex and a screaming child?
One writing deadline and an escape to her old apartment (which they did not dare try to sell in a down market) for a few days reignites their spark and gives Big an opening to suggest that maybe keeping a separate place for them each to find refuge from time to time when one of them needs a break. Michael Patrick King misses a huge opportunity here to revisit an episode from season two of "Sex and the City" when Big and Carrie were working out their living situation (before their first break-up) and Big expressed his desire for different apartments, "Like Woody and Mia," but "Before Soon-Yi." Instead of remembering how they worked through this desire for space while being together, King chooses to let the poor couple work through this problem all over again through the course of the film.
Meanwhile, Samantha and Carrie have planted the idea in Charlotte's head that maybe her nanny is too hot, which adds to the continual stress she endures dealing with her rambunctious daughters. She finds herself needing more moments alone which makes her feel like a failure at the one job she ever wanted, motherhood. There is a haphazard joke about the girls destroying her vintage Valentino, which unfortunately takes away from what almost every mother has felt at one time or another: "Who are theses monsters and what are they doing in my house?" On the other side of the city, Miranda has decided she's had enough of her boss who may or may not be ignoring her input because she's a strong woman and quits her job to find a new firm, which has the side benefit of allowing more time for her son Brady. (Whether or not this leaves more time for her husband Steve seems to be irrelevant as he is barely in the film.)
All of this adds up to The Girls all needing an escape; Carrie giving Big his time alone, a reluctant Charlotte who doesn't want to leave her husband alone with the nanny but would love a break from the kids, and Miranda who happens to now have some free time on her hands. As quickly as you can say "Smith Jerrod," Samantha has booked a well-paying PR gig for an unseen sheik who needs to raise the profile of his fancy hotel in Abu Dhabi. In the heat of the desert, their problems all come to a head (except for Miranda, who seems to be handling unemployment by being the most stable one of the bunch, which is a welcome change from the shrill beast they made her in the first SEX AND THE CITY film), and they, as always, rely on each other to see through their respective "mid-wife" crises of fidelity, motherhood, and aging.
Which is what the promise of "Sex and the City" was always about and why, for all of its trashy consumerism, it appeals to a wide audience: we want our girlfriends to be there when we need them. What started to alienate some viewers as the series went on, and what failed in the first movie so badly - shopping montages and fashion shows - are finally toned way down in SATC 2. That isn't to say the glamor and the Dior are not there - they are. But material goods no longer seem to take precedence over friendship.
What continues to be inconsistent in the SATC universe is the comedy. King cannot decide if he wants to create a broad comedy where Samantha is seen with her panties down so she can apply Premarin on herself while Charlotte struggles with camels and camel toe, or if he wants the film to play straight with just a couple of moments of comic relief. We already have the insufferable Nancy Meyers making movies about rich, white, overly-serious, Baby Boomer women who are struggling with their existence who just happen to occasionally veer into slapstick; there is no need for more of this. When the show worked, it was always when the comedy and the heart were at the forefront. SATC 2 works when those two elements are coaxed out of the characters. When SATC 2 takes itself too seriously, the movie feels flat and leaves itself open to ridicule that is undeserved for what should be escapist fare.
Remember the abaya note above? In a scene that has caused some controversy in the early reviews, Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha find themselves alone in a room with a group of Arab women who remove their abayas to reveal they too love fashion, and underneath their black robes they are all wearing the latest runway collection. Why is this scene played for shock? In recent years vaunted designers such as John Galliano and Caroline Herrera have designed abayas to be worn over evening gowns and have added jewels and embroidery to abayas to sell to the women of the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. By playing out this scene for titillation, King has given critics more than enough fuel to quite erroneously depict SATC 2 as a ham-fisted statement on privileged American women showing the UAE what life is like without a head wrap. (Ironically, every critic thus far who has called abayas burqas comes off sounding as snotty and uneducated as they suppose our heroines to be.)
Sarah Jessica Parker seems as comfortable in the role of Carrie as she ever has, which is no small feat for a character she has had to live with for more than a decade. Kim Cattrall's comedic timing is much better served in this film than the first, Kristin Davis has a funny drunk scene that allows her to break out from the uptight Charlotte York's disapproving WASP-y glare, and Cynthia Nixon has managed to somehow get better looking with age. It is a huge relief to see they allowed all four to look their age in the film, because the Photoshopped, diffused lighting billboards and advertisements have stripped away not only their wrinkles, but any life from their faces.
By returning parts of SEX AND THE CITY 2 to the series early seasons' comedic roots, King reminds us why it was fun to laugh at the foibles of a bunch of friends who just happen to have vaginas. But looking for anything deeper in this movie is a waste of everybody's time.