As my girlfriend/sisters/female acquaintances/random ladies regularly inform me, Sex and the City is one of the greatest television shows of all time. And I have no cause to disagree with them. I’ve sat through a couple of episodes, and although I’ve acknowledged that they’re not quite for me, I get the fanaticism. It was a frank, snappily-written show about female life and modern sex that managed to succeed as both an escapist fantasy and a rich character drama. Women around the globe designated themselves as either “A Charlotte”, “A Miranda”, “A Samantha”, or (as I assume the majority insisted) “A Carrie”. But that didn’t mean these characters were simply empty shells or cipher’s a’la Twilight’s Bella. No, they were fully-rounded, three-dimensional people. We won’t be talking about the show here. Instead, we’re talking instead the second laborious film outing, in which these once-rich characters are reduced to little more than pun-spouting, self-involved bores with as much emotional depth as a stiletto. And I hate them.
Sex and the City 2 plays like poorly-plotted fan fiction, except a devoted fan of the show wouldn’t betray the legacy of these characters the same way that writer/director Michael Patrick King does here. King throws six seasons of character development aside, grabs his four crudely defined Barbie dolls (“I’m the neurotic one”, “I’m the slutty one…” etc.) and simply films them playing with their different accessories: Charlotte’s Crying Baby, Carrie’s Bottomless Wardrobe, and in a new addition to the series, The Abu Dhabi Luxury Hotel Playset. There is almost no plot to speak of. No central conflict. No narrative drive. And with a two and a half hour run-time, it could have used it. Sitting in the cinema, enduring this never-ending tale, I couldn’t help but feel that I was being cosmically punished by the Gods of female-skewed cinema for my negative reviews of The Ugly Truth and My Sister’s Keeper. Surely a film this terrible had to be some kind of elaborate practical joke. I looked over at my girlfriend – you’re unlikely to meet a bigger fan of the show than her – and saw an expression somewhere between horror and heartbreak. The characters she once loved were now dead; their corpses paraded onscreen. Now she truly understands what it was like to sit through Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
At this point of the review, it would be traditional to describe the plot of the film – in this case it would be easier to attempt a summary of the surrealist classic Un Chien Andalou. Our heroines (a hilariously inappropriate title if ever there was one) Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Charlotte (Kristen Davis) and Samantha (Kim Cattrall) are no longer the youthful, sex-kittens of the TV series. They’ve grown older (if not up). Miranda and Charlotte are adjusting to motherhood, while Carrie and her prince charming Mr. Big (Chris Noth) are working through the predictable early hiccups of marriage. Samantha is still fighting the tide however, using a strict regime of hormones and vitamins to remain a terrifying sexual predator. And then, for reasons that are not important, the four ladies go to Abu Dhabi. I do not have the energy to expand on this any further.
Looking past the regrettable decision to take the “sex” out of “the city”, the sequences in Abu Dhabi are, quite simply, ridiculous. The four ladies stomp around the UAE in the most embarrassing of ways, having rooms/locations/cultural factoids described to them for at least 40 minutes. I mean, if you are looking for a movie in which people list things about Abu Dhabi, then you cannot go past Sex and the City 2. If you are looking for something that vaguely resembles a film, I advise you cast your eyes elsewhere. Instead of stringing four 30-minute episodes together, King stretches a single episode to five times its length. I found myself bursting into incredulous laughter as the film sluggishly limped past the two-hour mark, without having even reached a reasonable excuse for existing. King doesn’t really understand Abu Dhabi, and the four girls’ culture-clash comedy of errors comes across as little more than obnoxious and condescending (“oh, if only these women were given a voice/able to wear designer clothes like us…”). There might not be a worse moment in cinema this year than the one in which the Abu Dhabi womenfolk tear off their burqas and reveal that underneath they are wearing the same garish, over-expensive and offensive looking outfits as our leading ladies. It’s just awful. I’d accuse the film of being racist, but it’s pretty much an equal-opportunities offender. You need only be breathing to feel ashamed of these sorry events.
I will relent (slightly) and offer praise to the actresses, primarily Davis and Nixon, who forge (as best they can) real characters from this terrible screenplay. The best moment of the film is simply a quiet discussion between the two about the difficulties of being a mother. The dialogue is on the nose, but these two actresses are so convincing they trick you into thinking that you’re watching a better movie (and not some bizarre hyperreal depiction of “feminism”). And say what you will about the one-joke Samantha – at least Cattrall is fun in the role. The same cannot be said for Parker’s Carrie, who is given little to do except whinge about sitcom-esque marital woes (a TV in the bedroom, the boredom of staying in and ordering take-out) and then finally guilting Big into acquiescing to each of her demands. Suddenly, being “A Carrie” ain’t so appealing.
Sex and the City 2 is a poorly-constructed, unfunny and very flabby collection of scenes that succeed best in looking expensive. But so was Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, another terrible (terrible) film that I liked a little bit more than SATC2 because I enjoy the sight of an enormous robot beating up another enormous robot. (I must really hate a film to compare it unfavourably to Transformers 2). And much like I felt all the fanboys quivering with anticipation when the opening credits for Transformers rolled, I too sensed the excitement in the air of all the women in the audience eager to see these characters they love so much on the big screen. Sex and the City 2 is the female equivalent of Transformers; a big, dumb blockbuster that doesn’t require you to think very hard, if at all. Fans of the show will get a little out of it. But from what I’m told, this show used to be so much more than ‘dumb fun’, and because of that, I mourn the death of four memorable television characters that used to mean something to so many.