Thursday, May 27, 2010
Sex and the City
Sex and the City 2 opens today so I figured, what better way to prep than revist my review of the first one. A film like Sex and the City the Movie really unearths the true arbitrary nature of the star rating system. What does appointing a film with a star value really mean after all, when the true point of criticism seems, not to be so much in evaluation, but of sharing ideas and experiences from one film fan to the next? It certainly doesn’t tell us a film’s worth amongst other films, and since the stars don't convey a sense of the writer’s experience with an individual film, then why not just let the review speak for itself? So I bounced the concept around in my head of eliminating the stars altogether for Sex in the City (ed. note: I have recently eliminated the star system altogether for film reviews), because really, what kind of critical angle can I approach it from? Prior to writing this I skimmed Rotten Tomatoes to see what the general critical approach seemed to be. I of course, like many, could resort to general film criticism. I could say that the film is too long (which it is), isn’t genuinely witty (which it isn’t), and doesn’t use the film form in order to expand the original television concept to appeal to a wider audience (which it doesn’t). But I won’t do that, because a good critic will just be honest with themselves and admit up front whether or not they embody the film’s ideal audience and proceed from there. What good would film criticism do anyway for a work that’s cultural status stretches far beyond the simple realms of the film world? “Oh man.” I said to the person I was attending the theater with, “This thing is two and a half hours long.” “Good.” She replied, “The more the better.” Struck out before even getting up to the plate. So, here it is: I never watched one solitary second of Sex and the City when it was on the air, and probably won’t now that I’ve witnessed it on film. So what do I do? I can’t even begin to validate the film’s success in its faithfulness to the original show and playing movie critic for a film whose audience I was clearly not meant to be a part of seems silly for me and dishonest for you. So you see my predicament with rating the darn thing. In my position, appointing a star value to this work seems about as redundant as, well, writing about how redundant it seems. There are two things every 20-something moving to New York City is looking for, tells the writer Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker): labels and love (which could have easily doubled for the film’s own title). Needless to say, Carrie isn’t a very good writer, but a lack of talent seems like small criticism in a world where The Devil Wears Prada flies off the shelves. Carrie, having spent her years in New York, is now 40 and writing about being in love with the man of her dreams Mr. Big (Chris Noth) and their future plans. Supporting her along the way are her four best friends: Charlotte (Kirstin Davis), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and of course, crowd favorite Samantha (Kim Cattrall). For those not initiated with the show, they will find that these four women each inhabit broad social types and their emotional reach does not seem to delve much deeper than that. Carrie is the emotional one who thinks (as her opening voice over suggests) with her heart and her cheque book. The first thing Carrie checks when looking for the new apartment: the closest space. Miranda (the most level-headed and interesting of the four) is the headstrong one; a driven career woman, so caught up in her work that she risks sexually alienating her husband. Charlotte is the bright and bubbly one; the girl who everyone loved but no one took seriously in high school, who wound up with the best husband and family anyway. She’s mostly comic relief and has an unfortunate scene put upon her in which she accidentally drinks water in Mexico and has an attack that wouldn’t be below a Wayans Brothers comedy. Finally there is Samantha, who women love, I assume, because, even at fifty, she is sexually liberated and vulgar; kissing and telling whoever will listen. No wonder Sex and the City was such a hit on TV; these girls occupy the perfect high class/high fashion female fairytale. The plot however, at two and a half hours (that’s five episodes worth of material), feels painfully episodic as each sequence seems to announce itself as a requisite Sex and the City moment instead of emerging from a greater overarching narrative: Okay, here’s the fashion show; Okay, here’s the unveiling of the new closet; Okay, here’s the homosexual male banter; Okay, here’s the fabulous wedding dress, and so on. Of course, none of this seems to add up to any more than it is: another moment, another new idea for next week’s episode. At half an hour increments, I assume that Sex and the City could sustain itself. At two and half, it lacks the continuity and coherence to pack any emotional punch, despite one great sequence that, in spite of it all, seeps under the skin. It’s a montage of New Years Eve, set to the subtle splendor of Mairi Campbell and Dave Francis’ Auld Lang Syne. So now I’ve come to the end, and done my best to fulfill my job as the critic. I’ve described to the best of my abilities, the movie that I saw and the experience I had of it. I’ve tried to explain it in such a way that, if it sounds like it will appeal to you, you’ll see it even though it didn’t much appeal to me. I’ve thus given some thought to the matter and finally decided that the film deserves a three star rating: neither here nor there. As a whole the film doesn’t work: to those uninitiated, it will feel like visiting a stranger’s family reunion, with not much incentive to care about anyone there or the actions they take, and I firmly believe that a film of any nature should strive to be self-sufficient. However, for better or worse, as both a love and a label for many, I’m sure that Sex and the City the Movie is just about perfect.