Once upon a time, there were four women in the City. The women shopped, worked, went to lavish parties, and above all, they each searched for their Prince Charming and their happily ever after. They were powerful and fabulous — smart, beautiful, loyal to each other. The only problem was, all their confidence and sense went out the window every time they met a man.
And that’s pretty much the subject matter of the new film, Sex and the City. How can anyone with so much going for her be so clueless when it comes to love? And yet, women are – time and time again. Who can’t relate? As a woman I’ve got examples of my own, and I’ve watched friends get thrashed by romance and run back for more. What is it about the promise of a fairy tale ending that turns daunting women into masochists?
Sex and the City opens with Carrie – lead character and narrator of the TV series of the same name – reminiscing about arriving in New York City 20 years prior. She spots a group of four women who could easily pass for the original Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte, and she smiles. Women come to The City for two reasons, Carrie muses – the two Ls: Labels and Love.
Laying their hands on the Labels (Manolo Blahnik or Jimmy Choo shoes, Louis Vuitton handbags, and on and on) is no problem for the upper class paychecks these four women pull down. It’s the other L, Love, that makes their lives complicated.
“Love” is the topic of the book Carrie is writing throughout the film – or trying to. She’s got serious writer’s block and thinks making a major life change will shake things up. Well it does, but not quite in the way she planned. Charlotte seems happy as a clam; “I’m happy every day!” she insists. So happy she begins to worry something will go horribly wrong. Miranda and Samantha separately ponder where self-preservation and self-sacrifice begin and end, in loving someone. Should a person love someone else more than they love themselves? The implications of this drive the women’s stories.
These four storylines weave up and down, to the forefront and back to the shadows, again and again throughout the movie. One wonders if agents fought over each actor having equal dialogue counts and screen time. The result feels more like separate stories rehashed four times rather than one cohesive film with the proper pull of dramatic tension. At times the story seems to lag. Other times, the ebullience feels forced, like a party everyone’s pretending to have more fun at than they are. Do women who see each other nearly daily for a decade or two really shriek every time they see each other?
Still, the writers know what the fans want and the film delivers — fashion, sex, love, and even a little romance. There's dazzling New York scenery – a breathtaking overhead shot of Central Park, for example. The soundtrack adds energy, especially in the fan-friendly opening montage. A good ten minutes or more at the beginning is devoted to re-introducing each of the four women through past plot points from the TV series. Each well-loved line got recognition by way of laughter and applause from the audience. That was a genius touch, and warms up the audience to love the movie from the start.
And sure enough, despite a handful of years elapsing since we last saw these characters, every one of them is basically the same. Samantha still “loves to color” and is the world’s best girlfriend; Carrie writes about relationships and pines for Big; Charlotte wants a perfect family life; and Miranda struggles between rationality and emotion, weighing logic against true fairness. The characters are given witty lines the rest of us only wish we had the poise to parlay in any difficult situation. In essence, the same style carries from the TV series to the feature film. There are even two dazzling “Carrie” fashion montages: one in couture wedding gowns (no surprise to anyone who’s seen the several film trailers lately) and one in some of the more famous ‘Carrie clothes’ from the earliest episodes of the series. Fans will surely sigh for that in itself.
The long-awaited film version of this much loved TV series will not disappoint its true fans. Lesser fans of the show might find the intertwined storylines a bit confusing, the plot’s progress choppy. It feels more like a few episodes strung together, complete with more than one ending and rehashing what happened, than it feels like a major feature film. However, those for whom the first notes of the Sex and the City theme song has a joyously Pavlovian effect will love the sumptuous banquet the film sets out – enjoy the views, enjoy the music, enjoy the fashion, enjoy the laughter and tears with your favorite four television characters. The dedicated fans likely will not mind that the banquet goes on a bit too long. Or that Carrie never apparently learned that ‘men are just desserts’. One wonders if Carrie inspired show writer Greg Behrendt’s book, He’s Just Not That Into You. She may as well be Cinderella, only she pines for Big, not Prince. (Well, perhaps Prince would have sounded too much like she was calling a German Shepherd.) Just how much is she willing to take from the man – and why?
This film plays around the edges of a feminist revision but the attempt is half-hearted at best. In the end it falls for the Cinderella storybook the way we are all warned not to. What is it about a Prince fitting your slipper on your foot, when you shopped for the Blahniks yourself? As the four women in this New York City fairy tale speed toward midlife, the promise of Prince Charming’s magic wand should have started to wane. The real magic is the life these women have carved out for themselves, through hard work and the force of their own wills. Why don’t they see it? The message of this film seems to be that people don’t really change (including their willful cluelessness). Despite everything they have going for them, these women’s energy and thoughts are consumed with their men. It’s all we really hear about in this film, despite a cursory couple of plot points otherwise. I know the title is Sex and the City – but after all this time I had hoped to know the women a little bit more than that. Isn’t the moral of every good story self-discovery?
If you want a driving soundtrack, lots and lots of fashion and friendship, and some sex and romance to while away two hours with, then see this film. Just don’t look at it much closer than that, because the message underneath is a bit depressing. Sex and the City the movie does not progress so much as it prolongs.
Directed and written by: Michael Patrick King
Starring: Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon, Chris Noth, Candace Bergen, Jennifer Hudson
Wide release: May 30, 2008