Saturday, June 21, 2008

I put a bird in my hair.

I was having a drink with my friends Kate and Chris before going to see Sex and the City. When Chris referred to Kristin Davis' character Charlotte as "the hottest," I went into a tired, frustrated rant about why Charlotte and "bagging the virgin" fantasies are boring. Kate interrupted me, asking, "Is Miranda your favorite?" And she was right - I think Miranda's swell, and I'm not quite sure how she guessed this or what it says about me. Sex and the City's primary appeal is as a Rorschach test and a conversation starter; most of the time when people are talking about the show, they end up relating it to their own relationship issues. Though the show was often clunky, its four characters validated the concerns of many women (and a few men secure enough to admit it), and as a believer in the therapuic potential of pop culture, I admired it. So it's a shame that the Sex and the City movie completely misses what makes the show so popular; on the subjects of sex, marriage, parenthood and single life, it's remarkably tone-deaf. And this is not just the biased response of a dude for whom the movie wasn't intended; Kate, who couldn't wait to see it, left disappointed and slightly angry.

The movie reunites us to the show's protagonists in the midst of their thematically complimentary dramas, with Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) engaged and then jilted by corpulent ass Mr. Big (Chris Noth); Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and Steve's (David Eigenberg) marriage threatened by infidelity; Charlotte finally pregnant; and Samantha (Kim Cattrall) in L.A. and torn between her relationship and her horniness (not a crime). Enough fodder for a few 30-minute episodes of the show, yet at two and a half hours, Sex and the City feels both bloated and rushed, so busy to get from one dick gag or fashion montage to the next that it completely forgets what made these characters relatable in the first place. Charlotte's fear of losing her baby, for instance, would have been the subject of an entire episode, but instead it's quickly dismissed. No time for character development, after all, when you have to make room for poo jokes, humping dogs and a calculated, patronizing supporting turn by Jennifer Hudson as Carrie's new assistant Louise, who announces that the main thing in life is love, a point writer/director Michael Patrick King drives home with a close-up of Louise's ghetto-fabulous "LOVE" key chain. The whole thing is so bland and ill-conceived that it almost seems to be making fun of its own audience, pelting us with ridiculous costumes and a fleeting shot of a large penis while taunting, "Are you not entertained?"

Maybe King missed what made the show work, or maybe it just doesn't play on the big screen; either way, it's obvious how uninvolved the leads are. The women just don't have the same chemistry anymore; I don't want to guess at off-screen reasons for this, but it gives the movie an unintended sad subtext, like these ladies should have parted ways a while ago but nobody wants to be the one to say it. Davis has turned Charlotte into a crazy lady and a cautionary tale for young women who think they can cruise on cuteness forever, but then, I always hated Charlotte. This pains me as someone who has repeatedly defended Sarah Jessica Parker's looks and talent, but her performance is bound to be almost as big a camp classic as Joan Crawford's in Mommy Dearest. Acutely, self-consciously aware she's the lead in a movie a lot of people are going to see, Parker plays Carrie's generic post-breakup plotline like she's in an Ingmar Bergman film, weeping and staring tragically into the distance for most of the movie; I kept waiting for one of her friends to slap her, but it never happened. The movie's hostility is reserved for Samantha - judging by her treatment here, shipped off to L.A. and given little to do except tolerate repeated jabs at her age and weight, I think it's safe to say that everyone involved hates Kim Cattrall. Samantha's as watered-down as the rest of the movie; how much closer to the show's edginess would the movie be if the gang sparked a joint, or engaged in serious discussion about some very specific sexual practice? Take those moments out, and any semblance of wit or insight, and you're left with ladies in silly dresses. With this in mind, I fail to see why it's the movie's critics, and not the movie itself, being labelled as sexist.

However, yes, I do love Miranda, or more accurately, Cynthia Nixon. I love that in every one of her scenes, you can tell that she knows just how bad this movie is and she wants it to end as badly as you do. I love that, when her costars are all self-important about doing sex scenes in a movie called Sex and the City, she has a surprisingly graphic love scene with Eigenberg; her confidence in the face of ageism is admirable, and - sorry, Chris - she really is the hottest. And I love that she takes her stupid subplot and, next to Parker's overemoting, finds real emotion underneath the surface. There's a moment between Steve and Miranda towards the end that moved me a little bit and managed, on the strength of the performances, to evoke the bittersweet romantic appeal of New York. Sadly, the rest is poo poo, boner and stupid shoes.

No comments: