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Premature Anticipation: Whatever Happened to Sex and the City?

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Now that the dust has settled a bit and the mass hysteria seems to have calmed, I'd like to pass comment on the Sex and the City movie. In a nutshell: it was a non-event.

Everything that made Sex and the City so important and challenging and exciting and controversial when the television series started has fizzled away and despite the promise and PR, this film does nothing to reignite it. It is not a bad film by any means; it's entertaining, it's beautiful to watch, and there are even moments when these actresses who seemed to no longer need to 'act' actually do provide some strong and moving performances. But these are the exact same things that could be said about the television series as a whole. Would we not have been just as well served to have a 'best of' night in a privately hired cinema?

What was important about the Sex and the City phenomenon originally was that females finally had their very own Fonzie (or Joey Tribbiani or Christian Troy or Dr. Doug Ross or pick a name from any number of television series featuring a cheeky and oh-so-sensual male character with varying levels of intelligence/substance). It was avant-garde to have women not only living independently and successfully but navigating the realms of dating and sex with as much (if not more) savvy, manipulation, mistakes, and heart as any male or female character before them.

These women were not 'new' characters but for the first time we were being introduced to the woman who could be the femme fatale, the madonna, the spinster, the romantic, the sister, the realist, the career woman, and so much more, all within 24 hours if they liked depending on how they felt, what happened in their schedule, who they were with or what they were wearing at any given time. It is this fluidity which was most inspiring, empowering, frightening, and controversial for viewers who had not been met with such openness and truth in female representations for so long. This is why I watched and enjoyed it. In one episode I felt like Charlotte, the next maybe Miranda; and while I may not have learnt anything new (except for a few fashion ideas – and I am not saying that to be funny, I genuinely mean that ) the main point is that there was always at least one story line I empathised with and enjoyed seeing on my TV screen.

Sex and the City was about both of those things; sex and all its associations of love and relationships, as well as life in the city – all its challenges and opportunities, as well as the importance of a solid and honest support network to survive in it. But something happened along the way. Much like many of the bars the SATC girls seemed to frequent, it fell into that category of good things that go bad the more popular they become; the atmosphere changes as the powers-that-be decide not to be so picky about who they let in the door, purely because the more people they let in, the more money the bar makes: a "sell-out". Ever so gradually there became less 'city' and more 'sex' culminating in a much anticipated final episode in which all Carrie's heartache and emotional education is discarded when the man who hurt her the most flies to Paris, sheds one tear and all is forgiven. How disappointing.

When this is the platform the movie has to stem from it is not surprising that the producers decided to cram this same trajectory into 148 minutes for the movie. It is as though they have created a checklist for the key ingredients including handbags, crass jokes, friendship affirmation, independent female power, hot sex, a bit of heartache, fashion fashion fashion, and strung them all together on the flimsiest of narrative chains. This has then been promoted and advertised beyond belief, perhaps in the hope of distracting most viewers away from the truth that these vignettes are so manufactured and shallow that you might as well be watching a series of commercials on an adult or baby channel.

What happened to the snap and strength of the first few series? Where is the challenge? The taboo-breaking that was all so exciting and empowering once upon a time? I'm not saying I didn't pre-book tickets for the film's first night in London and go along with only female friends with much anticipation. One of the major and enduring beauties of SATC is that it is perfect for a girly gathering of laughter, swooning, and cattiness but for anyone like myself who hoped that the years between the series and the movie meant that much effort had been spent on injecting the film with the same pizzazz we once loved in the series, it was a sore disappointment.

We are reminded that (SPOILER ALERT!) Carrie perhaps gets 'carried away' (who passed that punchline, I would like to know … AWFUL!) with the idea of love and then learns to just enjoy it, we see Miranda have her usually cold heart broken by the one man she let in only to learn that she was partly to blame, Charlotte finally gets all that she ever wanted as a reward for her enduring sweetness, and Samantha almost loses herself in a man but then finds her fabulous self again. This is not to mention that Big yet again reveals himself to be incredibly self-centred and not half the man he should be, only to be forgiven following the smallest of gestures. Am I the only one who thinks walking away from a wedding is a much bigger deal than, say, forgetting a birthday? If he is indeed 'Big' is he not man enough to have addressed his issues with Carrie before the wedding day, say during the planning stage … ?

Not only have we seen this all before (this can perhaps be forgiven), but it is served up to us in such a transparent way that I couldn't help but wonder if the target audience was no longer the thiry- and forty-somethings who are supposedly validated by these characters, but instead the giggling teens and twenty-somethings who couldn't contain their shrieks of happiness at the screening I attended. More seasoned women of the age of SATC's characters I'm sure would have a much better understanding of disappointments, realities, trust, and friendship than to be swooning over a man who is so unreal that even his commonly used name is not sincere.

Despite my obvious dislike for the disappointingly shallow narrative and unfulfilled potential of the film, I'm sure if I had television at home and this same film were going to be broadcast on a night I had no other plans I would surely watch it. It is easy entertainment — yes, it made me smile and even shed a couple of tears but it also made me curse out loud in frustration at the conclusion which totally betrays any strength, sanctioning, and change which the series first promised.

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  • http://www.associatedcontent.com/user/39420/joanne_huspek.html Joanne Huspek

    Your review describes exactly how I felt after seeing the movie. Weird. Slightly dissatisfied. I hate to say it, but the original series was better. The book was better!

    I think you hit the nail on the head. This movie is being marketed to teenagers and younger, not to mature women. My 18 year old enjoyed it immensely, but she wasn’t allowed to watch the original program when it first aired.