Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Sex and the City 2: Michael Patrick King

Written by Liz Leeber
In the interest of full disclosure, I feel the need to make it known that I own all six seasons of Sex and the City on DVD. When the first movie came out, I went to see it with my close friends and a flask of white wine in my purse. I’ve taken a quiz online to determine which of the four girls I most resemble (I’m a Miranda, for the record). I’m not particularly proud of these facts, but it’s important for you to know that, while I by no means believe there is anything particularly groundbreaking or even relevant about the misadventures of Carrie and her friends, I find the show entertaining and compelling on a certain level.
In the interest of full disclosure, I feel the need to make it known that I own all six seasons of Sex and the City on DVD. When the first movie came out, I went to see it with my close friends and a flask of white wine in my purse. I’ve taken a quiz online to determine which of the four girls I most resemble (I’m a Miranda, for the record). I’m not particularly proud of these facts, but it’s important for you to know that, while I by no means believe there is anything particularly groundbreaking or even relevant about the misadventures of Carrie and her friends, I find the show entertaining and compelling on a certain level.
 
The recent backlash against the series and its big-screen manifestations is widespread: the sequel has received some of the most scathing reviews of any film this year. Rumors of the astronomical paychecks received by Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall in addition to product placement deals have further fueled the perception that the producers are out to milk the moviegoing public out of every last dollar under the guise of “female empowerment.” Most of the friends that I’ve spoken to are actually angry with me for seeing the movie and further fueling what they perceive as the unrealistic, materialistic, and dangerous view of femininity that Sex and the City promotes.

In trying to defend myself, I’ve come to the realization that Sex and the City has now become a franchise and not a television series or movie that is addressed on its on own terms. It’s become impossible for us to look beyond the giant billboards of a Gucci-clad, airbrushed Sarah Jessica Parker that are plastered everywhere. A difficulty arises when one tries to connect the narrative thread of the series with the events in the films, as they are two entirely different animals. The films, intended for a much wider audience, are considerably lighter in tone (no meaningful discussion of abortion, STDs, body image, or alternative sexuality).

The wedding of Carrie and Charlotte’s gay best friends, Stanford and Anthony, illustrates this divide perfectly. These two characters were known throughout the series as mortal enemies. When they first meet in Season 4 on a blind date, Anthony is horrified that Charlotte would fix him up with someone so unattractive, and Stanford is disgusted that Anthony is “such a queen.” While few would call this a nuanced portrayal of the politics of gay dating, this exchange at least attempts to call out some of the complexities inherent in two misguided straight girls trying to fix up their gay friends.

The backstory makes it all the more jarring when we learn, within the first 1/2 hour of SATC 2, that these characters are suddenly, inexplicably, getting married. While I can appreciate the fun the producers had in putting together the elements of their outlandish wedding ceremony (try as I might, I cannot hate on Liza Minnelli performing “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” as the entertainment), virtually no thought was put into making the plotline believable. We’re suddenly supposed to buy, no questions asked, that these two incompatible individuals are soulmates? Or, if you take the alternate viewpoint, we’re not supposed to “buy” any of it, but rather appreciate the film for what it is: fun, fluffy, entertainment. It is the latter perspective, taken by many defenders of the films, that causes confusion among viewers. Everyone is left wondering: what, exactly, is Sex and the City supposed to be?

At the best of times, Sex and the City was never believable. In the same vein as Friends, the financial realities are highly suspect. Many of the situations the ladies get themselves into verge on slapstick levels of absurdity. And of course there are the puns, which were famously and excellently mocked in an SNL skit featuring Christina Aguilera as Samantha. I would argue, however, that the show did make a solid attempt to look honestly at sex and relationships and the limitations of a certain ideal of femininity. What is lacking in the film adaptations is this level of self-awareness and self-mockery that ultimately made these characters, if not believable, then relatable.

The major drama in SATC 2 centers around Carrie’s annoyance with he husband’s (aka Mr. Big, aka John James Preston) preference for take-out and nights at home watching old movies. Carrie would rather be out attending glamorous events, socializing, and shopping. The final blow comes when he gives her a flat-screen TV as an anniversary gift. Crestfallen, Carrie is shocked that he doesn’t know her well enough by now to have gotten her jewelry, as she is clearly not the TV-in-bed type.

This sequence of events could easily have happened in the series. The key difference, however, is the significance attached to them on the big screen. Carrie is so incensed by Mr. Big’s behavior that she takes off on a glamorous vacation to Abu Dhabi with Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte, all of whom are experiencing their own equally banal dramas (with the possible exception of Miranda, who has a more substantial problem with a new boss at work). Cue the outlandish outfits (one of Samantha’s ensembles makes her look uncannily like King Koopa from the Mario Brothers video game), offensive Middle Eastern jokes (SPOILER ALERT: the phrase “Lawrence of my labia” is used), and all-girl sing-along to “I Am Woman, Hear me Roar” (no, I am not making this up).

The primary issue becomes that the SATC writers don’t seem to have a grasp of the tone they want to project. Are we supposed to accept the movies as deliberately outlandish, almost satirical in their trivialization of women’s issues? Or is the joke on us in a larger sense for ever taking the series seriously in the first place? We were implicitly told, back in the glory days of Sex and the City, that the writers were aware of the characters’ lack of depth and perspective. It made for compelling television, as you didn’t feel quite as deliberately manipulated by girl power sing-alongs and dramatic reunions. The series found its voice in the smaller moments of awkward conversations, missed social cues, and conflicting fantasies of personal empowerment. When you take those elements out of the equation, all that remains are stale puns, crazy outfits, and Liza Minnelli performing at a gay wedding.

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