Sex and the City (2008)

Sex and the City (2008)

Written and Directed by Michael Patrick King

Starring: Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis, Chris Noth, Jennifer Hudson, David Eigenberg

MPAA Rating: Rated R

Run Time: 148 minutes

There is so much that is disappointing about the much-anticipated movie based on the Sex and the City television series, that it’s hard to know where to begin. So, much like an embittered housewife who needs to vent to a girlfriend about how screwed up her life is, I’ll just start with the nit-picking stuff and go from there.

So why are our girls suddenly filthy rich? One of the things about the series that so many women could relate to was Carrie’s recurring financial woes. Yes, Carrie had a closet full of Manolo Blahniks even then, but she was constantly trying to figure out how she was going to pay for them. In the movie, however, money seems to flow like water; there’s nary a glimmer of a credit crisis for these lovely ladies. A sexually frustrated Samantha goes shopping at Gucci’s, and doesn’t blink an eye at auctioning $50,000 for a ring. When Big asks Carrie if she wants an engagement ring, she says sweetly “no,” and then, “…just a really big closet.” Well, the closet he builds for her is probably the equivalent of about five carats. I gasped in horror when Carrie mentioned the three hundred dollar price tag of a miniscule pillow Samantha’s newly acquired dog was humping. Granted, they were in Charlotte’s apartment, but still. The writers at least injected a refreshing antidote to all this extravagance with the introduction of Jennifer Hudson in the role of Carrie’s new assistant Louise (even though it has some accidental racist undertones, considering Miss Hudson is black). Like the Carrie we knew and loved, Louise knows how to get by with a plucky self-sufficiency that reminded me of the good old days, when the series took great pains to celebrate—remember, ladies? —the independent working woman.

I probably wouldn’t begrudge Carrie her newfound rich-and-famous lifestyle—and her decision to marry Big for financial security—if it weren’t for a more grievous infidelity that just makes me want to scream. The storyline, dear SATC fans, is right out of Falcon Crest. First, we find out that poor Steve cheated on Miranda, and even though he is abysmally contrite when he confesses his indiscretion to her (“It just happened once,” he admits guiltily), Miranda immediately gives him the boot as though he has just banged half of Brooklyn. No knock down dragged out fight, no tears, just a big self-righteous walk out the door. I’m not a proponent of adultery, and I am as sensitive as the next gal, but isn’t this a little over the top? Have we already forgotten that Carrie engaged in an adulterous affair with Big for the entire third season? Where was the level-headed Miranda I used to know and love, who would have engaged her friends in witty conversations about the sexual droughts of married life, or at least escaped to her TIVO? Even when she and Steve finally go to therapy, which is what most normal middle-class couples do when this happens, I didn’t much care by then if the marriage survived or not. Miranda, you lost me with good-bye.

In fact, the only attempt the movie makes at exploring the subject of sex is one teensy conversation the girls have at their diner, and they substitute the world “coloring” for the F word because Charlotte’s little girl is with them. It turns out Miranda is the only one with problems in the “coloring” department; the other girls love to color, they color a lot, happy, happy, happy. Where is the real, candid sex talk that made the series so cutting edge? Where are the problems—I’ll take anything…boredom, fantasy guilt, porn addiction, perimenopausal symptoms, vibrator envy…but not everything’s honky dory, except for poor libidinously-challenged Miranda, whom they react to by raising their eyebrows, and giving each other “the look.” Give me a “coloring” break.

And then there’s Carrie’s own hackneyed relationship problem. Not only does Big suddenly get cold feet at the altar, an already worn-out cliché, but how he got them, and what Carrie does about it, made me feel like I was in a corny 50s melodrama. The series may have been fluffy, its storylines broad and exaggerated, but it was never trite. It even made fun of trite, spoofing the very overused conventions that the movie relies on. In the movie’s final screen kiss, Carrie obligingly lifts up her high-heeled leg in the same way that actresses did ad nauseam in so many schlocky movies of the past, but Carrie’s imitation does not come off as parody. This is the real schlock.

I am a huge, guiltless fan of the TV series. Just ask my husband. I devoted over six months of my viewing life to the DVDs I found in my local video store four years ago. I fell in love with these women—Samantha, the sexually voracious free spirit who encouraged me to go looking for my own libido I had left under a pile of dirty diapers; Miranda, whose ambivalence toward motherhood and long-term commitment echoed my own; Charlotte, who just wanted to be happily married, and kept at it through season after season of bad luck; and of course, Carrie, whose constant interrogation of what love means, what relationships are all about, and the power men should or shouldn’t have in determining a woman’s own happiness, kept me riveted to the screen. I knew where Carrie was coming from. I understood her struggle to keep her dignity in the face of heartbreak and humiliation.

Somewhere along the line, the movie version of Sex and the City got too much Botox injected into the script—all the life was ironed out of it. The big screen version feels like a shallow imitation of its former small screen self. And just to give us a glimpse of what it could have been, the most interesting scene in the movie is the one where a jilted Carrie looks in the mirror after a sleepless night and sees her haggard face. She looks awful, and it looks real. The movie could have used more of that kind of character. It’s as though someone said bigger would be better, no matter how lame the script. And as our girls already know, it’s not only size that matters.

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Beverly Berning has recently begun her fourth career as a high school teacher of French and Italian, but her love of film remains steadfast. A former film student who aspired to be just like her idols Woody Allen, Erik Rohmer and Charlie Kaufman, she has been writing reviews for Culturevulture since 2006.