Monday, May 31, 2010

"Don't leave me hanging here": notes and an interview exploring the appeal of Sex and the City 2

Why are the critics being so harsh on Sex and the City 2? The film does have major problems, notably lots of poshlust, hype, loud scenes (with babies crying), histrionics, garish interiors, and the general smugness that comes from possessing a built-in fan base, but I went to see the movie in the spirit of trying to understand. What do the female fans get out of it? What kind of subtle messages get passed from Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda to all of the women of the world?

1) In one scene, for instance, Miranda and Charlotte drink cocktails in a private bar in Abu Dhabi and confide with one another about how motherhood can be hard, and how they sometimes get fed up with their motherly duties, and yet Miranda feels guilty. Meanwhile, Carrie worries about her and Big becoming a "boring married couple," especially now that her husband has taken to watching television in bed instead of seeking to find "sparkle" in their relationship. Samantha was once my favorite of the SATC ladies back in the days of the HBO show due to her aggressive and yet cool predatory sexuality. Now, as the eldest, she's become the poster child for menopause, getting hot flashes in the desert and yelling out "The estrogen has left the building!" in a sometimes depressingly needy way. I remember her being more restrained on the show (as everything was), but now she appears sitting in her Times Square office with her panties down her legs as she applies hormone cream.

2) So, all of the women convey real concerns to broad swaths of their demographic, and the audience may not care about the garishness of the film since it speaks directly to them, to their concerns with the urgency of tapping Morse Code between the walls of male-dominated prison cells known as the local Cineplex. This need to connect, to affirm their point of view, to suggest fashion choices, and air grievances oblige film critics to look again and consider different criteria.

To explore this point further, I interviewed my significant other, a longstanding fan of the HBO show who has seen every episode at least once on DVD. We spoke in a Tarantino-esque breakfast diner near Surfside Beach, SC. She said she would like to be called "Hot babe."

FD: Why do you like the show so much?

HB: Why? I've always had lots of girlfriends. I like shows about female relationships because those friendships have often been the longest lasting and most important relationships of my life, and I appreciate a show that emphasizes that.

FD: How do you compare the show to the movie versions?

HB: The shows can build on the nuances of the characters in ways the movies can't. For example, in the new movie, there's not much of a Miranda story, but if she didn't appear much in a particular TV show, it wouldn't matter because next week there would be an emphasis on her. In the movie, you miss out on what's going on in her life.

FD: And yet you liked the movie?

HB: Yes.

FD: What do you think of the harsh critical reaction to SATC2?

HB: I'm not sure that it's a very good movie, but the TV show is about characters. Movies tend to have an obvious plot, which is a masculine conceit. In female-authored texts, character is more important. It doesn't need a traditional plot. We get instead another installation of the characters we love, and that's what matters.

FD: What do you think of Carrie's quandary about her marriage with Mr. Big?

HB: I can perfectly understand how she feels. She married the man of her dreams, but then what happens? He can't live up to her romantic expectations, because she has him. Part of you wants the security of being married and part of you wants the freedom to go out and flirt.

FD: As she does with Aidan?

HB: Right.

FD: What did you think of Mr. Big and his fondness for his TV and his sofa?

HB: He rightly believes that home is a place where you can be yourself. When you're dating, you're out more than you're in.

FD: What did you think of the fashion component of SATC2?

HB: You feel like you've been shopping, and you haven't spent a penny.

FD: Didn't you find a lot of the clothes garish? So much gold and silver...

HB: Oh yeah, but it doesn't matter. I just like looking at all those clothes without having to commit to any. I liked the Dior tee-shirt and the taffeta skirt that Carrie wears, a mixed print-like look.

FD: What's your response to the criticism that the movie is too full of fantasies?

HB: It's no less a fantasy than men watching The A Team, but they don't talk about the fantasy elements of male-oriented blockbusters. The beauty of SATC is that the emotional center of the characters is very real. The rest is fantasy. I agree with an interview that I read recently where Sarah Jessica Parker remarked on that element of the show. We want to see things over the top because we know we can't have them. That doesn't make those elements any less delicious.

FD: What is your favorite scene?

HB: When Miranda and Charlotte have those drinks. Miranda says "I'll open myself first. Don't leave me hanging here." That's a reveal. That's the way you develop intimacy by revealing something very personal. You have to be willing to trust the other person with your secrets. The audience is privy to that too. That's what makes the movie work.

Related links:

Jodi Dean's thoughts on SATC2

How SATC changed Manhattan

A sociological analysis of SATC

Anne Thompson's view

Michael Patrick Harris dissects a scene

SATC2 and the art of the pan
In defense of SATC2

3 comments:

Kevin J. Olson said...

I know I'm not the target audience for this one, but something about the critical backlash almost makes me want to rent all of the DVD's and watch the show. There seems to be a general consensus that this film -- and it's ludicrous 150 minute run-time -- nearly erases all of the goodwill the show built up from the late 90's through the mid-2000's. I'm almost curious enough to see what all the fuss is about with these characters (even though I have caught a few episodes on TBS when I've been sitting on the couch with my wife...I hated the show whenever I was paying attention to it, but that was without any kind of context for the characters, so I give it a pass there).

I hate to bring up MacGruber again since I know you hated it so much, but I tend to find comedies like Sex and the City 2 with their bloated budgets and run-times, and themes of consumerism, to be more insulting to the comedy genre than something like MacGruber...which almost seems harmless in the sense that it definitely isn't trying to be taken seriously like Sex and the City 2.

Like I said, though, I am not the target audience for this thing. Good thoughts from you and your significant other, though.

FilmDr said...

Thanks, Kevin,

I think the difference is that SATC used to be something decent, whereas MacGruber had for me no connotations beyond the unholy existential pain of watching it. I decided to write my post about the appeal of SATC2 because just about everyone else slammed it, and I thought my critical notes would just be redundant. I still have about 3 pages of mockery of the movie's humorously hyped climax, the Abu Dhabi trip (where the movie appears to fall off a cliff), Carrie's superficial nods toward writing (although we never see her actual type anything on her computer. Now she just admires the jacket of her new book), and so on.

Smirkdirk said...

I liked that this is one of the few pieces I've come across that acknowledges SATC2 is a "bad" movie but attempts to take it seriously. It did, after all, satisfy fans of the show.

However, as a "bad" movie fan, I am also a massive fan of it. (Although not of SATC in general.)

There's a high-budget, bombast to it - that certain satisfaction of watching those who really think they're making something, not great, but at least pretty good fall flat on their faces. A lot of money thrown at the screen and the script, followed only by the mocking laughter of those who you only wanted to entertain.

To me this film is pretty much a follow-up to "Showgirls". The high-budget, comedic/dramatic badness of both of them is so wonderfully abysmal that it can only be replicated once every 15 years. Before "Showgirls" there was "Mommie Dearest". (Keep in mind that although they have achieved "camp" status, they were never intended to be.)