How bad is SATC 2? In addition to being "insipid," "condescending," and "blatantly anti-Muslim," it made reviewers experience delirious hallucinations about adding Eleanor Roosevelt as the fifth "girl" or killing them all off in a "heart-rending Death of Spock-type scene."
The film, which opens tomorrow (or tonight if you've got tickets to a midnight showing!), picks up two years after the last movie. Carrie's still married to Big, but she's stressing out because he likes to stay home and watch old movies, while she wants to go out. Miranda is struggling with a chauvinistic boss. Charlotte's troubles involve a braless nanny she fears Harry will cheat with and two little girls who ruin her vintage Dior. Samantha is fighting menopause with various pills and hormone creams — a horrible puns! It seems a large part of the movie is devoted to the ladies complaining that marriage, motherhood and menopause are a total drag. Plus, there's an all-expenses paid vacation to Abu Dhabi, that provides many opportunities for the "girls" to make culturally insensitive comments about women who wear burqas and quips like "Bedouin bath and beyond" and "Lawrence of my labia."
Most reviewers acknowledge that the SATC TV show was good, but say the new film is the epitome of all the arguments against the series. The ladies are self-absorbed and materialistic, and this time the heinously expensive clothes don't even look good. The jokes are dull and cliche, and overall, "this movie is like once-brilliant Champagne, carelessly left out overnight. And gone flat."
Below, the reviews:
Even in an escapist fantasy, the spectacle of women sinking into this billionaire's paradise at a time of widespread economic hardship initially seems creepy and off-putting. Soon, however, their Arab sojourn takes unexpected turns. First of all, Carrie encounters her old flame, Aidan (John Corbett), at the spice market, but even more importantly, she and her friends run up against the puritanical and misogynistic culture of the Middle East. The rather scathing portrayal of Muslim society no doubt will stir controversy, especially in a frothy summer entertainment, but there's something bracing about the film's saucy political incorrectness. Or is it politically correct? "SATC 2" is at once proudly feminist and blatantly anti-Muslim, which means that it might confound liberal viewers.
Indicative of the film's contradictory stance is a scene in which the ladies perform a karaoke version of Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman" in an Abu Dhabi nightclub. An equally outrageous moment comes when the interlopers are rescued by a bunch of Muslim women who strip off their black robes to reveal the stylish Western outfits they are concealing beneath their discreet garb. These endearingly loopy scenes exhibit the tasteless humor that enlivened the TV series on its best nights.
There are good sequences sprinkled in, where the movie sparks to life, from a karaoke version of "I Am Woman" to Charlotte and Miranda — over several cocktails — discussing the struggles, frustrations and guilt associated with motherhood. But these dunes prove too few and far between, and are generally followed by oddities like Carrie melting down over her latest book garnering a poor review in the New Yorker, which might be a preview of coming detractions. Beyond Minnelli, the celebrity cameos feel oddly gratuitous. There's also some not-very-convincing rumination on the treatment of Muslim women — even in what's supposed to be a relatively progressive Arab country — that seems more condescending than stirring.
The most depressing thing about Sex and the City 2 is that it seems to justify every nasty thing said and written about the series and first feature film. The SATC dynamic has always been fragile, but at its most affecting you could see beyond the costumes and artifice and feel the characters fighting for validation-and connecting with one another in their struggle. Now there's nothing but surface. And what a surface. The film is an epic eyesore. It's as if they set out to make a movie that said, "You're right! We are hideous!"
Amy Odell, of nymag.com's The Cut, accompanied me to the screening and was kind enough to whisper that a particular dress of Carrie's cost 50 grand. But what's the point of spending that much when the cinematographer, John Thomas, lights Sarah Jessica Parker to bring out the leatheriness of her skin? How did he manage to mummify the lovely Cynthia Nixon? Kim Cattrall, fresh off her witty, subtle work in The Ghost Writer, is costumed to look like a cross between (late) Mae West and (dead) Bea Arthur. Kristin Davis gets by (just) pulling little-girl faces, probably for the last time.
The girls have hot bods, the clothes and scenery are sublimely sparkly and the zippy zingers fly. A gay wedding and karaoke round out the lady catnip. It's over the top, and over the rainbow. But just like Carrie's worries about the "sparkle" leaving her marriage, this movie is like once-brilliant Champagne, carelessly left out overnight. And gone flat.
The first Sex and the City got a free pass from loyal viewers of the television series. This one will try their patience. For one, the clothes are mostly dreadful. Sarah Jessica Parker looks like a cross between Wurzel Gummidge and Bride of Chucky; Miranda looks badly embalmed. In one scene, where the gang appear coming over a dune in the Arabian desert, they resemble a karaoke tribute act to the Village People. Worse, they don't act like a gang, appearing as awkward and semi-detached in each other's company as if they were attending a school reunion party.Is it because they're so much older and still carrying on like members of an Imelda Marcos-organised hen party? Or is that we're older, being asked by the government to tighten our belts and look askance at the spend-spend habits that got us into the current recession, to the extent that there seems something not so much escapist as straight-out vapid about Carrie and her pals?
Dragging its deplorable carcass into infinity, Sex and the City 2 is so bad you can't even watch the trailer. Almost everyone who has ever appeared on the TV series reappears to mutter two or three lines that contribute nothing to the film they're in. The women-too old now to pout, whine and babble about their wet dreams, affluent and successful for reasons that are never clear-are all vain, narcissistic, selfish, superficial and really rather stupid. The actors work hard to perform triage, but they've been playing these roles so long they've grown moss. The insipid screenplay and catatonic direction seem chloroformed. Both are by Michael Patrick King. He's an expert at product placement and marketing (the end credits list hundreds of free plugs for everything from limousines to breakfast cereal), but I seriously doubt if he could direct Jeeps in the middle of the Mojave desert. When all this greed pays off with millions in box office receipts, the hacks responsible for Sex and the City 2 will say, "I told you so." But that won't make the movie any better. You can't make caviar out of jujubes.
But the sequel too often feels like a series of lavish set pieces with sporadic discussions about careers, marriage and babies in between (although one of those talks, between Charlotte and Miranda about the realities of motherhood, is the purest moment in the movie). Much of the shtick has long since gotten old. Carrie's running voiceover, the structural thread all along, feels intrusive and pat. Charlotte's cutesy prudishness seems an ill fit on a married mother of two. And Samantha's corny puns reach a new low, as evidenced by her reference to a hot, globe-trotting architect she meets in the desert as "Lawrence of my labia." It's seriously cringe-inducing.
At two-and-a-half hours, the movie is probably 45 minutes too long and sluggishly self-indulgent at times. Leaving Manhattan for Abu Dhabi for most of the story was a mistake, too, as at times it feels like a promotional ad from the United Arab Emirates tourist Board. But there's still enough of the Sex And the City magic for those who fell in love with the show more than a decade ago. I'm sure women will be queuing with their girlfriends to see the new film. All were probably single when they started watching the TV series, but now have a husband (and maybe an ex or two) and kids, and are juggling family and career like crazy. Above all, they will get a big warm feeling as the film opens and they recall what it was like to be searching for love and sex, which they always hoped (except in Samantha's case) would be a prelude for an enduring marriage. So in a way, Sex And the City 2 has come full circle. It has delivered on the promise. The journey may have been tortuous, but it has now ended. Nothing is as smart as it was; it's not as edgy, it's not as cute, it's sagged a bit. But then, haven't we all.
Brief updates. Miranda Hobbes Cynthia Nixon) is a high-powered lawyer who is dissed by her male chauvinist pig boss. Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall) is still a sexaholic slut. Charlotte York (Kristin Davis) has the two little girls she thought she wanted, but now discovers that they actually expect to be raised. Mothers, if you are reading, run this through your head. One little girl dips her hands in strawberry topping and plants two big handprints on your butt. You are on the cell to a girlfriend. How do you report this? You moan and wail out: "My vintage Valentino!" Any mother who wears her vintage Valentino while making muffin topping with her kids should be hauled up before the Department of Children and Family Services.
The movie's visual style is arthritic. Director Michael Patrick King covers the sitcom dialogue by dutifully cutting back and forth to whoever is speaking. A sample of Carrie's realistic dialogue in a marital argument: "You knew when I married you I was more Coco Chanel than coq au vin." Carrie also narrates the film, providing useful guidelines for those challenged by its intricacies. Sample: "Later that day, Big and I arrived home."
King might have done well to borrow from some of those classic Arabian tales. Instead, the script is at its weakest when he takes a stab at burka jokes and the lives of the women confined to them. In general, the film's Muslim sendups fall into two categories: painfully clichéd or cringe-worthy. "Bedouin, Bath & Beyond" is bad enough, but "the real housewives of Abu Dhabi"? Really?
Ironically, the nicest moments - Miranda and Charlotte confessing their parenting woes, Big turning into a very believable homebody, Aidan talking about his three sons - are the least typical of "Sex and the City" fare, yet the most in touch with American midlife realities. Cattrall has the toughest go of it with Samantha too sad and too shrill in her menopausal misery, a pity.
Making the film bearable is Parker, who is at her most relaxed in this latest Carrie incarnation. She's got all the same moves, but the emotional ups and downs are modest and the necessary ministrations from her friends barely required. Which begs the question, why have a sequel at all? Probably best to leave it to the accountants to answer that one."
The girls aren't interested in anything except shopping, drinking and strutting through the desert in slo-mo, but what's most appalling is that they vamp to "I Am Woman" in this land of sand Nazis. A veil "cuts back on the Botox bill!" chirps Samantha. Har. In Abu Dhabi husbands can legally beat their wives - and Carrie thinks this place is Oz, a cure for her boredom with a zillionaire husband who, she complains, eats too much takeout. (She won't cook because she's more "Coco Chanel than Coq au vin." Waiter: one divorce, please).
This put me in mind of a stunned and disillusioned childhood of multimedia consumption in the 1970s: watching the adventures of that sexy quartet, Kirk, Spock, Scotty and Bones, as with eternal dynamism they pursued space adventures on TV. And yet, up on the big screen, with each new movie … why did they look increasingly slow and dull and tired, often wearing new outfits which didn't look very good? Perhaps, with Sex and the City 4, we will be treated to a heart-rending Death of Spock-type scene, in which Samantha is fired out of a Manhattan penthouse window in a sparkly coffin, having first transferred her "katra" to a demure assistant.
One wrongheaded jaw-dropper follows another, from Samantha's description of a gay manservant as "Paula Abdul" to a comic climax in which the ladies escape an angry male mob by wearing hijabs and abayas given to them by like-minded Muslim women. And the featherbrained feminism the franchise specializes in reaches its apex when Carrie files her latest book (I Do. Do I?) beside Susan Sontag's Against Interpretation. How do you say "In your dreams, girlfriend" in Arabic?
As for Carrie: Sarah Jessica Parker is now 45 years old, and, frankly, I cannot stomach another moment of the simpering, mincing, hair-tossing, eyelash-batting little-girl shtick she's been pulling ever since she emerged, with considerably more verve and charm, as a high-colonic Malibu Barbie opposite Steve Martin in L.A. Story. It goes without saying that Carrie has been assigned the movie's big-ticket issue: What to do with marriage once the newlywed bliss is over, especially if you don't want children? That's a very good question, but one that's promptly dumbed down with bogus dilemmas, trumped-up crises, and much ancillary footwear chatter. Once the happy pair has feathered their cozy little nest, a cavernous pad with the requisite ballroom-size closet, it turns out that Big is a homebody who's had it, poor boy, with the fancy restaurants and glam gallery openings, and wants nothing more than to cuddle up with Carrie and the flat-screen television.
Wouldn't it be great if there were just one character of real substance in the fading female pantheon of Sex and the City? Say, someone like Eleanor Roosevelt? I started fantasizing about adding a fifth woman, one who is smart and curious, after seeing the once feisty foursome from Manhattan become rich-girl caricatures in the utterly lame Sex and the City 2, released Thursday. This film officially ends the era when Sex and the City was culturally relevant. The zipper is broken, the heel has snapped, the Botox has hit the brain.
I just wish a character who is wise and focused on a world outside her own desires could have joined this most recent blast of bling and couture to leave long-term devotees with any message other than aging is depressing, marriage is depressing, children are depressing, and complaining about all three relentlessly is boring.
If they seem less wonderful now, it isn't because of slackened effort or diminished charm on the part of the actresses who play them. It is that the movie itself, and perhaps the culture it stands in for, has lost interest and can't figure out what to do with them as they tiptoe toward middle age. Samantha is the exception, but the whole point of her character is a steadfast resistance to change. So Ms. Cattrall dutifully reprises her trademark outrageousness, come-hithering guys of all ages and sponsoring a decadent girls week out in Abu Dhabi.
Is Manhattan really that over? Maybe it is for Carrie and her friends. Time does not stand still on that island, where the party girls of yesteryear are tomorrow's Ladies Who Lunch. But rather than trying to find a place for Carrie and company on their native ground - which has shifted a little in the recessionary, politicized interval between the series's heyday and now - "Sex and the City 2" flees into a never-never land that manages to be both an escape from contemporary reality and an off-key, out-of-touch mirror of it.
When watching Sex and the City 2 I thought that a woman would never have made this movie. She could never get away with it. It's not only a female fantasy, but it's a gay male fantasy of women - that we all wear couture and three inch heels to take out the garbage. Because it is a movie it has lost some of the bite of the series and I also think that the series benefited from having women's voices as part of the writing. They kept it grounded in some semblance of reality.
But this movie is not a hard look at reality. It's a summer escape movie just like all the movies that blow shit up. You don't think that guys who go see Iron Man have any expectation of becoming like Iron Man (except in their fantasies), just like I don't expect to ever be able to fit in or wear a versace skirt. Women know this is not real, in fact 76% of the people (mostly women) who took a survey on fandango.com look at the film as a "great escape."
Judging from that interminable, painfully forced sequence, in which every homophobic stereotype is indulged, overstated and beaten to within an inch of its reductive life, a thread of self-hatred animates this "Sex and the City" that was only hinted at in previous incarnations. As the story progresses, inexplicably, to a freebie junket in Abu Dhabi, the script visits one indignity after another upon "the girls," from Miranda's desperate woops of fake glee to convince herself she's having fun to Samantha's compulsive penchant for dirty puns.
Sophomoric, sexualized humor isn't a sin when it comes to "Sex and the City"; after all, one of the taboo territories the show so boldly conquered was feminizing raunchy comedy that has otherwise been the purview of Judd Apatow and his tribe of Lost Boys. But while the show and first movie managed to thread a tricky needle between the traditionally girly concerns of clothes, shoes and romance and a far more sober, clear-eyed view of female solidarity and autonomy, "Sex and the City 2" uses feminist arguments to preempt the criticism it so richly deserves.