Monday, June 02, 2008

Why I Didn't Like The Sex & The City Movie

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

First what I liked about the movie -
1. I loved finding out what happened to these characters.

Watching the series, from the nearly, the beginning I grew to love these girls and related to them or rather felt they related to me. I felt lucky to own the series on DVDs so that when I'm an old woman I would have some document to reflect "the way we were."

Growing up in NJ, I have felt I knew Sarah Jessica Parker (SJP) since we were kids, and she was playing Annie on Broadway. She was just a year older than I, took dancing lessons in the city and she was some one I emulated (even before she dated JFK, Jr.). I met her once in 1990 and visited with her, got her signature (and Robert Downey Jr.'s). I still have my autograph book and her signature struck me at the time as strangely girly.

From that sense of personal connection I had felt growing up toward SJP, I have felt slightly less so recently. For example, I found her to be insufferable in this NPR interview that she did April 10 for another film she was in, Smart People. I found her condescending and studied, too self-studied.

But I related to the characters and the things that happened to them (and sometimes the things they said and did). They were exactly my age, and so very often, and much to my surprise, I saw on screen much of my own life and romantic frustration.

Of all of them, mostly I related to Charlotte. I'm not cool enough to be Carrie, free enough to be Samantha, smart enough to be Miranda. But Charlotte's romanticism - which often seemed myopic and out of date - yeah, that I could be that, or at least I could find her attitude easier emulate and outlook more embraceable. I also liked that Charlotte was always the one who believed in Big; she was the unabashed romantic. I found that not only relate-able, but courageous and honorable. I sense in Charlotte a nobility, in an idealism that despite evidence to contrary she cling to nonetheless. I was gratified to see in the film that she was rewarded with that attitude by being depicted as the happiest, and the happiest most consistently. I liked that Charlotte had a baby of her own with a man she loved. That, to me, was the happy ending. That was when I got choked up.

There were many favorite lines but my all time favorite was Charlotte's:
I've been dating since I was 17. I'm exhausted. Where is he????
To which Miranda asked,
Who? The White Knight?
Yeah, the white knight. Seems the potential white knights of my generation could mostly be busy playing knights in video games. See this other NPR interview "Young Men Stuck in Adolescent-Adult Limbo"
Kay Hymowitz argues that it's time for 20- and 30-year-old guys to put down the Xbox controller and grow up.

It wasn't long ago, Hymowitz says, that the average man in his mid-20s had achieved many of life's major milestones — he had a job, a marriage, perhaps even kids and a house.

Today's mid-20something male "lingers happily," Hymowitz writes, "in a new hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance."


"Adolescence appears to be the young man's default state," Hymowitz writes, and the behavior is encouraged and reinforced by pop culture — television and the gaming industry in particular.

I sensed some truth in that outlook on my generation's society when I heard it January, but its not universally true. And I don't like the idea of blaming men for love disconnection, which was more pervasive in the film than in the series. But I'm still on what I liked...

2. I liked the fact that the big sales this past weekend may mean that there'll be more movies with stories about women (dare I suggest women in their 40s?). I almost didn't make it there this weekend and had a very dear friend accommodate my mercurial ability(and her own disinclination to wait on line for any thing!). But I wanted to be counted among those numbers.

3. I liked Samantha's loyalty to Smith. That was worthwhile and though she ultimately decided the relationship wasn't right for her, I admired that she tried to stick it out. Her way of breaking up with him was too crassly put - and not so accurate. She says she loves him, but loves herself more. The key is how to be in a relationship and be able to do both, without compromising the other.

4. I liked some of the laugh lines.
The bit about Miranda's public hair growth was funny.
I liked Samantha's reaction when a PETA activist poured red blood liquid on Samantha's fur - "I missed New York." It reminded me of the best line of one of my mother's best friends - who was approached likewise aggressively with words though, not with staining liquid. "Do you know how many animals were killed in order for you to wear that coat?" the activist asked, to which my mother's friend answered, "Do you know how many animals I had to fuck in order to wear this coat?"

5. I liked the scene where the girls care for Carrie, checking in on here every 12 hours when she's sleeping on arrival in Mexico. They clear off the rose petals, they feed her, they are just with her in silence. That to me is the essence of female friendship - that silent companionship and loyalty.

6. I liked that Mr. Big eventually got down on his knee to ask Carrie to marry him.

7. Aspects of the plot at times echoed the best of Jane Austen - the bit about Miranda sputtering in anger to Big - who kindly asked if she was okay after an encounter with her philandering husband - it's a mistake to get married, it changes everything. Words spoken in anger, to someone who read them in a different context, had long reaching effects. That struck me as very like Jane Austen.

8. I liked Jennifer Hudson, though in a limited role. Another good line, catching a man checking out her boobs, she quips - There's nothing in there for you.

9. I liked the fact that Big, at a loss for words, typed out the most beautiful love letters of all time to send to her. I found that touching and moving, even his sense of his inadequacy, but not being defeated by that.

What I didn't like:
1. I was struck a sense of materialism and I didn't like that. The New York Times review called it shallow; I can't go that far - maybe because I know the characters better or in a larger context. But there was no question that the materialism was striking. All that going on and on about a closet.

Now, admittedly, the plot worked it out so that the moral of the story was that, in part, it was the very materialism of Carrie's planned wedding that allowed things to get out of hand and off course. But even on reflection, I'm not sure that was enough to counterbalance all the rest. That point, that moral seemed lost. The bottom line is that Carrie and Big reunited in that aforementioned closet he built for her.

2. I didn't like the product placement which was outrageous and conspicuous; Vanity Fair does a pretty complete round up of all the products placed and featured. Now I realize that to have no products would make the movie seem unreal, even if it wasn't set in the consumer capital of the world. But the relentless placement also contributed to that sense of materialism; the preoccupation with designer bags and 500 dollar shoes seemed raw and repulsive in a way, to me, that wasn't true in the shoes - I mean even in the shows that followed 9/11.

3. I didn't like the plot.
Now the main conflict of the plot was the romantic misunderstanding between Carrie and Big that caused him to not show up at the mega-wedding. But like the crudest of romance novels, the conflict seemed contrived and mostly animated by the heroine's stupidity. How could she not know where her cell phone was? On a superficial level of the plotting, that was what bothered me the most. But then she tosses her phone in the ocean? Silly girl. Doesn't open her mail, real or electronic. Okay, I could get avoiding mail for weeks. I've gone weeks without opening mail, but not for months.

4. I didn't like how selfish the characters often seemed to me. A discussion over at Slate captured another aspect that bothered me:
I think Big was frightened to commit once again to a woman who would always put her girlfriends above him. If I were the bride and my groom spent the night with his guy friends and I called him distressed about the wedding and my groom didn't come home and never picked up my phone calls (OK, for a good reason, but in a moment of panic, who thinks clearly?), and all I wanted was to "walk in" together but I couldn't because he was surrounded by his pals, if I had the guts, I might have bailed too.
That gender reversal exercise felt instructive and enabled some sympathy for the main male protagonist that the movie only barely hinted at. To be fair, it does hint. Big speaks of his discomfort and embarrassment of being married three times. His ambivalence is completely understandable and given short shrift both by the girls and the plot. And he wanted to talk to her and instead she bopped him over the head with her bouquet. In her hurt, she seemed to jumped to conclusions and hardness. The very thing Carrie admonishes Miranda for doing. I didn't like the women's hardness. Some would say that was self-respect.

5. I didn't like the portrayals of men. Unlike in the series, they just weren't given any depth. None of them. Now fans of the series, like myself, were able to import back story and context and motivation. We know these guys as well as the girls. The New Yorker review is particularly harsh - comparing Charlotte's husband Harry to a washed out Dr. Evil (Austin Powers) and Miranda's husband Steve as Radar from M*A*S*H. Both evocations seem unfair, but probably understandable if one is not familiar with the series. Anthony Lane goes farther suggesting that in the movie - real men are —lusty, loyal, and loaded. That's so shallow. But probably justified. And that's kind of a dig at the opening line that women go to NYC in the 20s in search of labels and love.

6. I didn't like Samantha's humping pooch or Charlotte crapping her pants.

7. I didn't like Carrie's wedding head dress. It was a bird. The dress with the simpler veil was beautiful in the photo shoot that Carrie did for Vogue. I thought that was beautiful. But as she looked and wore it on her big day - and it wasn't just the bluebird, but her harsh makeup as well - she seemed hard and unattractive.

8. I didn't like the photo shoot of her in all the wedding dresses. It seemed that was the climax of the marriage proposal rather than the wedding, or the marriage itself. Again, Carrie gets her comeuppance and she seems to get it later when she tells Miranda that the text accompanying that photo shoot Carrie admitted she talked only about herself. I, I, I. Weddings are not excuses for selfishness, no matter how long you wait for the day. But here again is Lane with what I thought a revealing comparison:
she receives a proposal of marriage from her long-term boyfriend, Mr. Big (Chris Noth), and this triggers a Babylonian orgy of spending. In a montage of wedding-dress fittings, she honors “new friends like Vera Wang and Carolina Herrera and Christian Lacroix, Lanvin and Dior,” and so on; what I object to is not the name-dropping—think of it as a chick response to “American Psycho”—but the montage itself, which is shot in lazy veils of schmaltz. Compare the quick-change sequence in “Funny Face,” with Audrey Hepburn robed in one Givenchy masterpiece after another, and you sense not merely the greater snap in Stanley Donen’s direction (with more than a hand from Richard Avedon), and the hotter bloom of the coloring, but the way in which Hepburn herself outglows the frocks, with her smile and her imperious shout—“Take the picture, take the picture!” No thoroughbred was ever just a clotheshorse.
I have to agree - although Parker looked stunning most of the dresses, she was no Hepburn.

So there are my thoughts. Am I glad I saw it? yes. Am I glad the movie was made? yes. Am I going to see the next one, if there is a next one? yes. But I hope they do a better job.

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