Elevate Difference

Sex and the City: The Movie

Far as I can tell, there’s never been a consensus on Sex and the City’s feminist appeal. It shows intimate female relationships, but it’s heteronormative, white, and the characters often talk past each other. The women live (mostly) sexually liberated lives, but they’re nevertheless forever in search of the perfect man to fulfill their emotional needs. The ladies are also all highly successful in their own careers, but their love of expensive shoes and sex toys supports a patriarchal, capitalist model.

I was not an original follower of the show—never had HBO, for one. But over the past two years, thanks to several series-devoted female friends, I suspect I’ve seen every episode at least once or twice. A fan of the individual characters more than their sum total, my expectations for the film felt reasoned. Not skeptical or enthusiastic, I walked in knowing product placement was rampant, it was a sometimes-tedious 2.5 hours in length, and that I was in for a film a bit below its cable-television standards.

After rewriting this review several times, I’ve concluded that the easiest way to explain this film is to expound on its shortcomings, of which there are simply too many. The film opens to a truly unbelievable wedding planning frenzy for Carrie, the forever marriage-phobic writer, and we soon find her on the outs with her commitment-averse fiancé, the phallically named Mr. Big. Gee, when will he show up and make it right again over the next two hours? I was bored and insulted and mostly annoyed. How many times must we watch the same woman make such painfully bad decisions?

(SPOILER ALERT: keep reading this review only if you want key pieces of the plot revealed to you.)

The other characters fared marginally better along the functionality spectrum. Miranda spends the movie separating from a cheating Steve, only to reconcile later. Her choice is perhaps the most complicated, and it also seems to be the one least deserving of feminist scorn, for who hasn’t been there? Samantha finds herself bored and undersexed after five years with Smith Jerrod, and after a few blowups, she leaves for good. For his part, Smith was always a compassionate, sensitive character in the television series, and the movie robs him of this. Or, maybe we forget that the nice guys end up being complacent, selfish assholes too? The message, in whatever way you perceive it, is troubling. We can at least be satisfied that Samantha goes back to single life because her relationship with her authentic self is ultimately the most important to her, superceding her role as business manager and part time girlfriend of a movie star. Charlotte, in her comfortable domestic mothering role, finds herself pregnant and gives birth off-screen. While true to her previous TV-era character, the updated Charlotte feels a little stifled and serves all too often as everyone else’s doormat.

The problems with all of the Sex and the City women stem from the same problems they have always had, only in movie form, they seem larger than life. Why does Charlotte have imperialist tendencies while vacationing in Mexico, only eating pudding from the States because, “It’s Mexico!”? Why is her primary comedic moment a lowly scatological joke? Why is Samantha chastised for her “gut” when the slim fifty-year-old gains fifteen pounds? Why is the only character of color Carrie’s personal assistant? Played well by Jennifer Hudson, her lines nevertheless make her into a one-dimensional, label-loving, yes-woman. This is the diversity of New York City circa 2008? You don’t have to have been in Manhattan recently (or ever) to know this is a movie-made myth.

Maybe my current Sex and the City discomfort would have manifested itself sooner if I’d ever watched four episodes on the TV show in a row. Maybe I did have higher hopes than I thought. I’ve heard plenty of critiques—the children had no character development, the actresses are too self-conscious in revisiting their famed roles—but how much more can be crammed in? The film didn’t drag, but it pushes its genre limits at two and a half hours. In the end, the Sex and the City movie is nothing more than an overinflated romantic comedy with disempowering messages about the depressing state of modern love. Maybe it’s someone’s reality, but it couldn’t be much further from mine or one I would ever desire.

I would recommend seeing the movie if you’re far more devout than I ever was, or, alternately, if you’d like to cement your distaste for the series once and for all. Since seeing the film well over a week ago, I can’t stand to look at or hear any of the characters, let alone watch the show. To immediately swear off a regularly consumed guilty pleasure—a group of intelligent female characters—based on one two-hour sitting has to say something, right? Your money is better spent on a book.

Written by: Brittany Shoot, June 27th 2008

LOL Mandy, I loved your play-by-play. Right out of my own head. Re: Carrie's reaction to Miranda's confession--Wow, how would Carrie have responded if Miranda told her she and Big had slept together? The histrionic ceiling had already been reached!

SATC commentary, from beginning to end as I see it for the first time.Says the friend of the newly single woman who was selling all of the jewelry she had been given by her ex-boyfriend at an auction: "We all told her to get married, but she didn't want to listen. He'd been married three times before, so she let it ride, and then she came home one night and he had locked her out. She didn't even have anywhere to live. Such a shame, after ten years. She was a smart girl until she fell in love."My commentary: Uh, one ring brought the woman $60K. I hardly think that she was suddenly destitute because of the breakup. This also assumes that she wouldn't be in the same position just because she'd signed a piece of paper. When a relationship is over, it's over. Legally recognized or not. And so far as I can tell, girlfriend is bringing in mad cash for all that bling. That sounds like a pretty smart cookie to me.Charlotte announcing Carrie's engagement at a restaurant because she deafened everyone by screaming when Carrie told 'the girls': I'm so sorry everyone, but this is my friend, and she just got engaged. And she has been going out with the man for ten years! (applause commences)My commentary: Right. So let's not give her props for making a relationship work for ten years. Let's give her props because she's finally wrestling him into marriage.Wedding Planner: A small wedding of 75 guests.My commentary: Small? Do you know how much weddings cost? Small would be single digits.Charlotte reading Carrie the wedding announcement in the paper: ...proving to single gals everywhere that there can be a happy ending over 40.My commentary: Because being a famous writer who's independent and self-sufficient and in a ten year relationship (which means NOT single) and financially settled enough to own her own apartment in a swank Manhattan neighborhood is a miserable way to live if you're not married.Vogue spread title, featuring Carrie-the-40-year-old-bride: The Last Single GirlMy commentary: Hell-o! She's not freakin' single!Aside: The flagrant product placement is making me ill, and I'm only 20 minutes in! The wedding dress montage - Vera Wang, Oscar de la Renta, Vivian Westwood - just pushed me over the edge. My teeth were grinding while watching it, and then she gets a dress sent to her from the designer? That's called class privilege, folks. And the fact that her simple dress wasn't good enough for her friends just reinforces the idea that weddings are for one thing: going into a crazy amount of debt that will, many times, last longer than the marriage itself.And where is Mr. Big during all of this? Absent. Where's the scene of him telling his friends? Absent. And why does he keep calling her "kiddo" and "young lady" as though he's her father, not her lover. The pedophilic undertones send chills up my spine.Just when I thought it might be getting interesting (Miranda inquires about the meaning of an inactive sex life), they just HAD to show Carrie's remodeled closet, a monstrosity that could house a small family. Wait, in SATC terms, small is 75. Hmmmm... you could probably fit 75 people in there, though.Are they really using Miranda to add depth to this film? Except removing all of the actual depth by skipping over any conversation between Steve and her about each of their complicated emotions surrounding his affair? And before 'the girls' ask Miranda how SHE feels, Carrie asks how STEVE is handling the break up. What a great friend that one is! (you did feel the sarcasm, right?) This theme of shitty friends continues throughout the movie as Miranda is constantly blamed (directly and indirectly) for Steve's infidelity, and her so-called friends all confess at one point or another that she's made a mistake in leaving him. None of them actually explain any of their rationale for these opinions and accusations, however. And then the real work is glossed over again and again, culminating in a 30 second therapy scene and subsequent meeting on the Brooklyn Bridge.All of a sudden, a "small" wedding means 200 guests. And why, you may ask? Carrie blames the dress. (They're gonna need a bigger closet.) So big gets mad and instead of having a conversation about what he wants, he yells at Carrie and then apologizes and hugs her when she pouts at him. The key to a healthy relationship apparently isn't communication. It's guilt.And guess where pouty-faced non-communication gets you? It gets you a call the night before your wedding with the question, "Is this something we really want to do?" And Carrie condescends to Big. She treats him like a child that needs to be hand-held. She doesn't take his fears seriously. She responds by talking him off the ledge, an indication of her own fears.And the Cinderella storyline is set up when Charlotte's daughter is told to look at the bride because she looks just like a princess. But I guess they need to foreshadow the little "talk" that Carrie eventually gives the girl about Cinderella being full of false hope. And then later Carrie gets a Cinderella Valentine's Day card from the same little girl. For goodness sake, can't these writers come up with something original?Nope. Apparently they can't. Finally there's a bit of comic relief, though. The slow-mo cell phone drop (this will be echoed later when Carrie throws her cell into the ocean in Mexico) as Big announces to Carrie that he can't marry her was the funniest part in the whole damn film. Oh wait, no! It's when Charlotte hobbles in that terrible dress from one side of the limo to the other! OMG! Is this the part that's supposed to be the height of the drama?!And in this supposed height, what does Carrie think? "My clothes. How am I going to get my clothes?" Nice. Really nice.Ooohhh, and the Honeymoon! Guess where that was going to be? Yup. Mexico. At a resort. White people love to spend their Honeymoon in poor countries where brown people can service them. Isn't that a sweet way to celebrate love??Okay so I guess I'm giving you a bit of a play by play now. Miranda's big confession to Charlotte, post-Big-wedding-no-show: Do you think the reason this happened is because, in my anger at my own cheating husband, I told him he was crazy to get married? Oh how I wished Charlotte would have responded, "Yes, you egomaniacal ass. Your words were so powerful that they were the single negative influence on an otherwise blissfully happiness. For shame!" (again with the snark) If that exchange wasn't annoying enough, the fact that Miranda finally does "confess" this to Carrie five months later (and that Carrie actually gets angry about it and accuses Miranda of 'ruining her marriage') made me lose all faith that the writers have any connection to reality. Cut to another glossed over quick-fix.They women go on the Honeymoon themselves, of course. And the trip begins with Carrie refusing to eat or get out of bed for two days. In continuation of the Carrie-as-a-child theme, when she is finally convinced to eat, Samantha has to literally spoon feed her a babyfood-like substance.Speaking of not eating, Carrie's not alone. Charlotte won't eat either, but it's because she's scared to actually eat the food that the brown people serve her, despite the fact that they're at a 5-star resort. Can you imagine the damage that this woman will do to her East Asian daughter? (By the way, food as a method of control is a theme throughout the movie. Watch, it shows up later too.)Continuing the theme of brown people's servitude, instead of picking up the pieces of her own life when she gets back to NYC, Carrie hires a Black woman to be her assistant. And by "assistant" I mean that she unpacks all of Carrie's shit and rearranges her apartment for her and handles her work business and re-designs her webpage. In her spare time (I'm wondering if she actually has any by the way she's running around after this privileged white lady), she also acts as love counselor. Wise black woman teaches white woman a thing or two about life and love.And how about slapping housewives in the face while you're at it? Miranda accuses them of having nothing to do all day, and calls them "non-working." Yeah, all that domestic work just does itself, I guess. Oh wait, but she has a servant for that! Silly me.Since the movie is so excruciatingly long, you know there had to be a second fashion designer montage. And there is. At least this one is straightforward (Fashion Week Catwalk).Another cringeworthy point comes when Samantha develops a pooch (eating as control theme again), and 'the girls' all stare in horror at it as they interrogate her on what evil has befallen her that would make her do such an awful thing as increase her pant size from a 4 to a 6. How does she respond? She decides that she's got to leave her 5 year relationship because she's using food as a substitute for steppin' out. How does she end it? With the "I love you, but I love me more" line. Cliche #864 and 25 mins to go.The password to find Big's plagiarized emails is "love"? Ugh! And why does Carrie go to the apartment? For shoes! Somebody's got their priorities all kinds of screwed up.Of course Big is at the apartment too, and they kiss. No words. No explanation. Just kiss and a simple double apology and proof no more problem. Just a one-kneed proposal and diamond ring and $525 shoe-as-glass-slipper and courthouse marriage away from the ending.Thank goodness it's over.

And lets not forget Miranda, wild-eyed and lost in New York's Chinatown, pointing one long pale talon at a passing Caucasian and shrieking "white guy with a baby! Wherever he's going, that's where we need to be!"Much like everything else, this joke could have been something more. It could have been a comment on gentrification, but Miranda actually, frantically follows him. Charlotte's fear of Mexican water could have been a condemnation of imperialism, until she gets perhaps a teaspoon of Mexican shower water in her mouth and shits her pants. Hudson could have been a really strong lead of color, but she's relegated to an assistant. Someone on ohnotheydidnt said it best (don't laugh, they do it often): a black woman wins an Oscar and she's still just a white woman's assistant.So many could haves, and now I don't know how I feel about the series. Once it was audacious and clever. Now it's: SATC could have been a really awesome feminist series, except for the white-washed cast, obsession with marriage, and astonishing consumerism. And that, like Samantha on a Saturday night, really sucks.

This is a tough call for me. I will admit to being one of the feminists who loves this show to death. I am not going to launch into a debate on this because I admit I can see both sides of the argument as being valid. There are some things in the show that are blatantly not feminist, I will not deny that.In terms of the movie, I was also disappointed. I had been very excited about it, but perhaps a few years away from the show (reruns don't count) helped me turn a more objective eye. For example, as the reviewer mentioned, I also noticed Charlotte's prejudices in Mexico and didn't think they were necessary. What bothered me most about the film was actually the ending, which I will not divulge. It was basically yet another example of this woman giving up what she wants because the man in her life is selfish. I did not see the end as a middle-of-the-road compromise, I saw it as her not getting the special thing she wanted in order to make him happy. When has Mr. Big ever done anything that was purely for Carrie and not for himself? Unfortunately, this can be true to life, but it wasn't very empowering for me, let me tell you.

"Once you remove the pixie dust of female camaraderie, contemporary New York emerges as an essentially pre-feminist society in which the courtship rituals are strikingly similar to those depicted in the novels of Jane Austen. Women are second-class citizens who are expected to use their youth and beauty as commodities in order to secure their economic wellbeing. Sex and the City is set in this world, but it conceals its brutality behind a veneer of cocktails and laughter. In reality, female friendship is the first thing to be sacrificed in the cutthroat competition for rich husbands."No doubt some of my feelings about this are due to sour grapes. If I had been a Mr Big type, I probably would have found New York’s gender inequality more acceptable. But sometimes the worm’s-eye view is more accurate. To my mind, Sex and the City is the equivalent of one of those Soviet propaganda films in which the factory workers are depicted as happy, singing citizens of tomorrow. The truth is that women like Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda are wretched, unhappy and isolated. The key to their survival is not the sisterhood, but a combination of slimming pills and anti-depressants."this is an excerpt from Toby Young's review:http://www.tobyyoung.co.uk/blog_173/sex_and_the_city.html

Thanks for the review. wicked-enervate's comments on your review receive my kudos. Sex And The City and the people who expound its 'virtue' as feminist, are wearing me down!! I see misogyny and co-optation.

Great review! I was pleased to see that you emphasized the pseudo-feminist issues of the show in regards to the fact that it's primarily devoted to white-heterosexual-feminism and even then the women conform to popular notions of women needing to dress and look a certain way in order to feel good about themselves or attract male attention.

I agree with the above comments (and the reviewer). I've only seen a few episodes of SATC and never really understood the appeal. All of the characters seemed so simplistic, and I couldn't identify with any of them.

I was never really sold on the feminist appeal of Sex and the City. In every episode I watched, all conversations centred around men. The men in their lives, the men they wished were in their lives. It was hard to suspend my disbelief far enough to believe four incredibly successful women would spend so little time talking about their jobs or ambitions, and so much time talking about lube.

"I would recommend seeing the movie... if you’d like to cement your distaste for the series once and for all."snortwell, i enjoyed the series...sort of. i, too, felt very annoyed at the shallowness of almost all the characters. i guess it was a kind of escapism, like scifi. look, occasionally witty people caring about weird things! even so, i don't miss that series at all.

I think a better plot for the story would be all the girls get rich like in the show "Roseanne". Remember how well the show did after that plot change?