Friday, May 28, 2010


Two years ago HBO’s long-running sitcom Sex and the City was turned into a feature film of nearly two & a half hours length. It was enough of a hit to warrant a sequel, Sex and the City 2, which is within a minute or two of the same length.
I’m not sure why the first film had to be so long, & I’m very sure that the current film didn’t have to be. A few months ago I grumbled about the length of Avatar, but in fairness to James Cameron’s film, it’s an epic about space travel, human identity & the exploitation of an indigenous race. Sex and the City 2, only about twenty minutes shorter, is about four rich women from New York spending a few days on vacation at a luxury hotel in the United Arab Emirates. The dramatic high point of Avatar is the destruction of a whole culture’s ancestral home. The dramatic high point of SATC2 is a dinner date between a married chick & her old boyfriend.

So what’s with the length? My guess is that the writer-producer-director, Michael Patrick King, is trying to create the sense of watching a whole season of the TV show crammed into one sitting, like a viewer laid up with the flu might do with a DVD box set. This approach worked with the first film, sort of, but this one plods, & the complications piled on near the end are unwelcome.

The married woman in question is Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), who hitched her dream man “Mr. Big” (Chris Noth) in the earlier film &, of course, is now starting to squirm & fidget as the reality of married life’s over-familiarity starts to set in. She accepts the invitation of her ever-lascivious friend Samantha (Kim Catrrall) to join her for a PR trip to Abu Dhabi. So do the other two pals in the circle, no-nonsense lawyer Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) & harried stay-at-home Mom Charlotte (Kristen Davis).

Much lewd wackiness ensues when they get there, but the “serious” plot strand has Carrie coincidentally running into an earlier boyfriend (John Corbett) & feeling just unsettled enough about her marriage to take him up on dinner.

No one would be likely to mistake the first film’s script for a lost work by Oscar Wilde, but King’s dialogue relies even more heavily on wince-inducing puns this time out (“Lawrence of my labia,” for one of the more sparkling examples). He also ups the ante on celebrity cameos, some of them, like Miley Cyrus & Tim Gunn, playing themselves. Liza Minelli, surprisingly spry, appears early on & performs a full-blown musical number, the centerpiece of a long sequence set at an extravagant gay wedding that might have had Mel Brooks as its planner. This is probably the most agreeable chunk of the film, but it all smells a bit desperate, really—the anxious sweat of a movie with no urgent reason, other than commercial, to exist.

I don’t wish to be ungallant, but it also struck me that all four of the stars, but especially Parker & Cattrall, were less flatteringly photographed this time, too, & far less flatteringly costumed. A couple of Parker’s hats look like rejects from Flash Gordon.

None of this is really the 500-pound gorilla in the room where SATC2, is concerned, however. The degree to which these characters indulge their narcissism & cosmopolitan acquisitiveness, even proudly defend them as if they were virtues, is remarkable even in the first film. It’s magnified quite a few times when it’s played out against the backdrop of a culture in which women enjoy not even one-tenth of the freedoms that Carrie & her friends take for granted. With certain sequences, as when the four stars perform a karaoke version of “I Am Woman” at an Abu Dhabi nightclub & the local women sing along in smiling approval, it’s hard to know whether to feel offended, embarrassed, or touched at the childish gesture of “you go girl” uplift.

A little of all three, maybe. But it’s a bit unsavory the way SATC2 wants to swoon over Abu Dhabi’s opulence & exoticism & luxury on the one hand, & wag its finger at the culture’s oppression of women on the other. This movie wants to have its falafel & eat it too.

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