Saturday, September 27, 2008

Cinderellas in their 40s in the Big Apple: Sex and the City: The Movie Version: a review/interview

Back in June 2008, when this blog was just getting started, I was dissatisfied with my review of Sex in the City: The Movie Version because I felt that I just didn’t get the film’s fundamental appeal to women. So I asked a long-standing devotee of the television show if she would mind being interviewed about the movie. She graciously accepted, and this interview took place in a Tarantino-esque coffee shop near Surfside Beach, South Carolina.

Him: The Sex and the City HBO show favored the single woman’s perspective, giving a hip feminist twist to the search for romance in the city. The show went on for six seasons, with much of it tracking the many ups and downs of Carrie and Big’s relationship (i.e. Sarah Jessica Parker and Chris Noth) As Big, Noth is a sort of aristocratic, rich, handsome, but also unreliable hunk, a kind of 21st century Heathcliff. Meanwhile, the three friends, the nympho blonde Samantha, the ultra-preppy brunette Charlotte, and the more angst-ridden lawyer redhead Miranda had numerous romances or just hook-ups in turn. No matter what sexual deviancy served as a theme for each show (urination, threesomes, talking dirty), the ladies could always regroup, drink Cosmopolitans, and restore themselves with their camaraderie. Men were often deplored and/or lusted over, but ultimately they proved secondary to the four-way friendship. What did you like about the film?

Her: The movie has a “slumber party” effect. Most girls when they are in middle school get together with their best girlfriends and stay up all night and talk about boys and try on clothes and makeup and giggle and cut up and eat without the worry of a boy looking on. And that’s the world of Sex and the City, regardless of the guys on the side. Every woman can identify with that. It’s just fun. There’s the thing about the guy, but the guy’s are never invited into that world, other than how they enter into the discussion.

Him: As the six seasons went on, the agenda of the show changed from the more freewheeling singles life to drearier concerns about aging, careers, having children, and getting married. Carrie broke up with Big, visited Paris with Alexander, a character played by Baryshnikov, and then ultimately went back to Big one last time.

The film picks up the four friends four years later. Carrie is now living with Big. Miranda has married the bartender Steve, and has a boy, Brady. Samantha found both hot sex and commitment with an actor, Smith Gerrold, out in Hollywood (she’s his press agent). Charlotte married Harry, her divorce lawyer, and adopted a Chinese girl Lily after they proved “reproductively challenged.”

All of this massive backstory gets covered quickly in the opening credits, and soon Carrie and Big decide to get married after they find a beautiful Penthouse apartment in Manhattan. “This is where they keep the light,” exhudes Carrie as they walk through its fairy tale spacious interior. Big says that he will buy it, and when Carrie thinks of selling her little brownstone apartment, the female friends become concerned about Carrie becoming financially dependent on Big. She will have “no legal rights” if Big chooses to kick her out later. When Carrie brings up these concerns with Big, he casually mentions getting married, so they decide-- after ten years of break-ups and reconciliations-- to do just that.

The film indulges itself in a Cinderella fantasy of Vivienne Westwood wedding dresses and a Vogue photoshoot for Carrie, but when Big gets cold feet and does not show for the wedding, the scene suddenly becomes oddly tragic. Carrie howls “Get me out of here,” and retires to lick her wounds in Mexico with her friends. As the tone darkens, and Steve confesses to having an affair to his wife Miranda, I noticed how the women tend to overreact to male unreliability. In situations where others might forgive and forget, these cut off all communication with the guy, refuse to read their e-mails, and generally freeze the man out for months.

Her: Carrie and Miranda have always been very single-minded about what they want and very likely to toss away relationships when things aren’t going well. Both of them have tossed out the loves of their lives several times for various reasons. In general, they represent a kind of woman who expects quid pro quo in her relations with men, and if they seem to be getting the short stick, they will vamoose. For some reason, this may seem unrealistic given their economic straits, but for Sex in the City women, they can always depend on themselves. They are capable of taking care of themselves. That independence often makes them more me-centered than many women can allow themselves to be.

Him: For instance, Miranda hasn’t had sex with Steve for over six months when he fools around on her, yet she views his infidelity as a betrayal of their trust and will have nothing to do with him. So, even as one enjoys the show as an opportunity to meet up with old friend characters, they come across as amazingly inflexible, which one suspects helps maintain the intensity of the storyline.

Her: They put up resistance to make a point. We, the audience, know that they will go back to their men because we know them better than they know themselves. I knew that Carrie often goes back to Big because she loves him too much.

Him: Oddly, the jokes of the film are cruder than usual. Samantha stumbles across a small female puppy for sale, and when she notices the puppy humping a toy, she knows the dog follows her own heart, so she buys it. This humping dog gag shows up multiple times as a counterpoint to the later emotional scenes, but Adam Sandler has used the same joke repeatedly back in Click. Other jokes include an attack of diarrhea that causes Charlotte to defecate in her pants, and Miranda’s unsightly pubic hair growth that shows around her bathing suit. I understand that humor often involves the embarrassing limitations of the body, but it still seems strange that the writer/director Michael Patrick King reached for such crass gags more appropriate for teenage guys for his showpiece film.

Her: I was really bothered by the pubic hair thing because the typical Sex in the City riff on body imperfection is to talk about it but not show it. For example, they’ve had many jokes about pubic hair (the famous Brazilian wax dialogues), so I can’t understand why King included that sight gag.

Him: You mentioned slumber parties. I thought that ultimately, Sex and the City resembles a class reunion. One enjoys seeing old characters return, but their once youthful impetuosity and lustful joy in life can appear more lecherous now that they are in their forties. For instance, Samantha reaches her fiftieth birthday lewdly spying on a young man sleeping with several women next door. It struck me that the women seem more celibate, more bound by the duties of middle age to be worthy of the title Sex and the City. The men, too, seem diminished by being married. Steve makes for an agreeable little figure, cracking a lame joke when needed. As a kind of fantasy figure, only Big retains some edge, and that’s only because he’s allowed to act badly and leave the film or the show for long periods of time.

Her: There’s no age limit for female camaraderie or lustfulness. The slumber party effect is ageless. As a matter of fact, the older you get the more you need it. The friends are all in relationships. Once you are in a relationship, you don’t talk about the sex as much because it’s a form of respect paid to your partner. The men may feel diminished to you, but they are always secondary in the show anyway.

Him: Even though the film does a nice job emphasizing fashion and real estate, the city hardly figures in the narrative at all.

Her: I wished that we had seen more of New York. I wish that they had dwelled more in a Woody Allen way on the city.

Him: Jennifer Hudson agreeably shows up as Carrie’s new assistant, but she comes to obviously represent the power of love to restore everything, and there’s no escaping the sense that she conveys the more idealistic youthful perspective that the women once had. Now, even with the film’s unlikely happy ending, their attempts at bonhomie carry a bittersweet hint of denial as their lives change.

Her: They see Jennifer Hudson as the next phase. There are always new people coming to the city to do the same thing, to look for “love and labels.” There’s a sense of renewal. They look back on their experience, and they are proud of where they come from. I don’t think that they are concerned about aging at all.

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