Thursday, June 05, 2008


Carrie Bradshaw's opening narration in SEX AND THE CITY tells us that women come to New York in search of two things: labels (as in designer) and love. In that order. When I heard that narration, I knew pretty much what I was in for. Evidently the rampant psychotic greed that typified Carrie's adventures was going to be very much front and center. And I wasn't wrong: the labels came fast and furious and faster and furiouser.

What love there is in the film is largely distributed among the four women and their intimate relationships with each other, their bank accounts, their closets, their favorite department stores, their favorite designers, and their dogs, not necessarily in that order. There are some men in there too, but they are completely beside the point. Big and Carrie finally decide to get married, almost as an afterthought after a scene of apartment hunting that nets Carrie her dream apartment (paid for, of course, by Big). The impending nuptials prompts a Nero-esque orgy of wedding dress fittings and preparations that would have shamed Malcolm Forbes. Big feels rather understandably left out of the whole deal, and winds up bolting. Carrie must, with her friends' help, put the pieces of her life back together.

That's the main set up for the film, and it is Carrie's story, after all. As far as the supporting characters go, more questions are raised than are answered, and it gets very frustrating. There's nothing like equal time spent on the lives of the other three characters, and nothing like equal time given to their men, who don't register at all. Samantha's partner Smith has gone from being a hunk with a soul in the series to a mysteriously chilly cipher in the film. Charlotte's husband Harry is only shown so that we can all marvel at how wonderful he is. Miranda's husband Steve fares a bit better, but the only one of the men to get anywhere near the screen time that the ladies get is Carrie's partner Big, evidently named for the really astonishingly huge size of his financial portfolio.

Ultimately, Steve and Miranda's relationship is the only relationship in the film that seems to have any resemblance to life as it is lived by more than one percent of the human population since the beginning of time. It is also the most frustrating, because I kept wanting to know more about what had gone wrong with them, and the motives behind their behavior. But no, this isn't that kind of a movie. The movie sacrifices character development for fashion shows. On at least three occasions, the movie screeches to a halt for a display of some of the ugliest clothing ever, outfits that would only make sense worn by Divine in some abandoned Fellini film. But not as tasteful.

I can't help feeling that way too many of the problems faced by these characters could have been headed off at the pass simply if the people involved ACTED LIKE ADULTS. Yeah, yeah, the show is a sitcom/fairytale, and the movie follows that tradition, but both show and film keep pretending to be more than that, raising some fairly serious issues about relationships while resolutely ignoring others, and it never seems to be aware of the paradox. It wants to be a fabulous frothy cocktail of shopping and sexy punny talk AND a serious comic examination of the lives of women in the Big City. The balance between the triviality of a lot of their pursuits (cosmos and bars and $550 shoes, oh my) and the seriousness of their relationship issues is a precarious one. And occasionally the magic in the series worked. Miranda's often confused feelings for Steve, Samantha's growing attachment to Smith, and Charlotte's attempts to get pregnant were generally very interestingly and movingly handled. But it wasn't long before the scales would tilt back to the trivial: another dress, more shoes, another shopping spree...

My reaction clearly isn't typical. I just have a hard time relating significantly to the lives of people who spend $300 on a single throw pillow. A pillow, I might add, that winds up as a sex partner for a dog that doesn't realize she's been neutered, which seems like something of a metaphor for at least one of the female lead characters. At least Jennifer Saunders' ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS made a point of the thick-headedness of its heroine who steadfastly refuses to learn anything at all, while SATC, in general, wants us to applaud and admire these women who so often behave so badly while dressing so fabulously.

To be fair, the film seems to address some of the uglier issues of the series. Carrie's pathological self-centeredness, for example: it is to her credit that she finally does recognize her own selfishness regarding the whole outlandish wedding fiasco. But like all of the lessons learned by these characters, it vanishes in a shrieking orgy of self-congratulation and a dinner at a surprisingly unfabulous restaurant near City Hall, the only time I can think of where all of the characters appear onscreen together. The narration even tells us that we have to look past the labels to find the love, in what we're supposed to see as a reversal of the opening line. That little message is flatly contradicted by the film's final moments: the ladies are shown, without their men, disappearing into a fabulous nightclub, velvet rope lifted to accommodate their fabulousness, all attired in clothes so resolutely hideous that they can only be designer originals.