Bamboo Reviews: Sex and the City

By Amanda Marcotte
Sunday, June 15, 2008 15:22 EDT
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Warning: I spoil. Get used to it.

I love Jesse’s idea of doing “Bamboo Reviews”, so I thought I’d review Sex and the City, which I did end up seeing after all. I think I have a taste of what the people who voted for Hillary Clinton because of the sexist backlash were feeling, because I probably would have blown off seeing this except that it was clear that much (most? all?) of the rabid antipathy that developed against this movie was rooted in sexism. Oh noes! Four women who make their own money and can actually take or leave men! That all four happily took men—that the show went out of its way to calm fears that straight women who have a choice might not choose to be tied to one man—seems to make no difference. After reading (I forget where and can’t find it on Google) that female critics generally liked the movie, and male critics generally disliked it, meaning that the Metacritic rating was permanently fouled by prejudice, I grabbed a girlfriend of mine who also remembers the show as I did, which is that it was a show with actual characters who were interesting instead of, as critics seem to remember it, a non-stop montage of shopping and giggling. And that remembered that the reason women liked the show so much was that it dispensed with so many of the romantic cliches that usually make “women’s” entertainment so hard to watch.

In fact, decrying the double standard between this movie and the fluff made for boys that doesn’t get near how misleading the SATC backlash is, because this movie was much smarter than the boy fluff. The writing is consistent and sharp, and they actually have subtle, interesting things to say. This isn’t a strict clothes-for-girls, boom-for-boys thing, because SATC actually tries to be smart. My concerns about seeing it—that it would betray me the way the end of the show did, by forcing everyone to hook up, even if it was out of character—were pretty much corrected. The show got a do-over and really did-over.*
I will say this first: The one thing that was really off-putting was how much they bought into the hype about how the show was “about” designer labels and clothes. The amount of label name-dropping, ridiculous clothing idolizing, and squealing over purses was exponentially higher than on the show. I hope to god that Louis Vitton paid through the nose for the amount of product endorsement they got. Some of it was funny, like it was on the show. Don’t discount how much the fashion parade was a great way for the audience to have some fun at Carrie’s expense. In the movie, the best example is the montage of Carrie in wedding gowns, each more hideous than the last, with an alarming nod to Christian Lacroix, who I hold singularly responsible for how bad the 80s were. It’s no wonder he’s making some big comeback, as the 80s are coming back whether we like it or not. Dramatic gagging noises at the atrocious couture is part of the fun.

The other thing that made me upset was tacking Jennifer Hudson’s character into the movie. Hudson was game and did a good job with a shitty role. But she served exactly no purpose whatsoever. She was there to remind viewers of what our beloved characters were like 20 years prior, fresh off the bus from one of the flyover states, eager to be fashionable, professional, and sophisticated. She’s obviously clever, both in her work and her strategies at appearing more sophisticated than she has the money for. And then she says dumb shit like, “I came to New York to fall in love,” which is jarring and actually contrary to most of the show, which is about women who came for the work or the chance to be the urbane sophisticate, and who don’t get married until well in their 30s because they have better things to do than spend all their time husband-hunting. I didn’t see the point of hustling her character into the story at the last minute and then yanking her out not too much later. Make her a real character or don’t, but this half-assing it was jarring. Had she been lifted bodily out of the film, then 95% of the corny crap that characterizes other, less fun romantic comedies would have been gone. Her lines were a nod to people who actually like the cookie cutter movies like, um, “28 Dresses”, which is the one with a big poster I keep walking by whenever I walk by Blockbuster.

Outside of those two concerns, and a few bad transitions that show how much the writers and directors are stuck in TVLand, though, I was impressed at how they brought the A game. It would have been easy to write a meaningless fluff of a movie that avoided the sticky subjects the show often dealt with. The media backlash has convinced much of America that nothing of depth was done or said on the show, because you know, the main characters are just women, single ones at that. But they still drove down some dark roads in the movie, and it was engaging because of it. I was especially impressed with how Miranda and Steve’s failing relationship was portrayed, because both characters do really shitty things to one another but they both come across not as bad people so much as good people who fumble and fuck up like all the rest of us. Big’s character had to be rewritten a little so you didn’t want to stab your eyes out with a fork to see Carrie give him another chance, but damn if they didn’t pull it off. The trick, I think, was to use the intervening years to imply that Big was a man who just slowed down and saw what was really important in his middle age, and yet has occasional and understandable backsliding impulses that he generally can deal with. Even though the wedding blow-up is a bit contrived (it hinges on the idea that Big wouldn’t have fucked things up if he had just gotten a small pep talk from Carrie right before the wedding), it works pretty well at showing him as a man grappling with the idea that change is even possible.

Charlotte’s character is just there as comic relief, which was fine by me. What made the show work when it was good was the tension between the dark, sardonic humor (which is abundant as Miranda, Carrie, and Samantha make cracks about the dark turns in their lives) and plain silliness. Kristin Davis is blessed with the comic timing you have to have to make silliness work, so they let her have at it. Both she and Kim Catrall are too funny to be left on the shelf, but I guess they’re too old to get parts in Hollywood, where women aging is verboten. You know, it occurs to me, thinking about the movie, that 95% of the laugh lines are in women’s mouths. I think the only man who says anything funny that got a laugh out of me was Charlotte’s husband. No wonder so many male critics were offended. The shoe put on the other foot doesn’t fit so comfortably, huh?

What kills me—what absolutely fucking murders me—is that this movie has been lambasted for “materialism”, something bad when women have it, but understandable when men have it, especially in regards to things that increase your carbon footprint. But the moral of the movie is that while things are nice, we shouldn’t let them get in the way of people. Which, last I checked, was a statement against materialism. Probably not good enough for the harumphers, because anything short of women self-flagellating because they start deciding to enjoy the things like clothes and nice homes that were supposed to be feminine duties performed for the enjoyment of men, not ourselves, but still, it’s there.

And it’s subtly teased out, no less. It seems natural that Big would pull a dick move and stand Carrie up at the altar, but slowly over the movie, you actually get to go along with Carrie as she comes to the realization that the big, materialistic wedding you throw to show off for the rest of the world has great potential to harm your relationship, which should be about you and your partner at the end of the day. The movie protests the ultimate expression of the loathed feminine materialism—the big blow-out wedding. First thing my friend and I were talking about as we left was—okay, I lie. First we made fun of Carrie’s clothes. The second thing we talked about was how the movie really reaffirmed our sense that the big wedding is just a big, bad idea. You just see how Carrie gets railroaded by friends and colleagues out of her good judgment that demands a small wedding to having the show-off extravaganza that makes Big feel like he’s just a bit player and not, you know, the groom.

So, I loved that. And I loved how Samantha redeems herself after an ill-conceived series ending that puts her in a monogamous relationship. The scene where she finds herself, um, dolled up and waiting for a man to show up for a romantic evening she put effort into planning probably struck a chord with a huge percentage of women. They nail the humiliation of that moment that many (most?) women have suffered perfectly, a humiliation that’s so exquisite that it really demands that the guilty party suffer serious consequences. Again, I can see why this movie was threatening, because it’s clear that in Samantha’s case, deliberately refusing to be in a relationship is in fact a better choice than putting yourself at the mercy of a man’s whims. Like, that choice is actively endorsed.

*Oooh, Amanda wrote a Carrie-ism. I always thought that the writers on the show had a good time expressing all those bad writing urges through Carrie. Like if you want to write teeth-grinding puns or hokey navel-gazing sentences, and you know better as a general rule, getting a job as a writer for “SATC” was a dream, because you could put the maudlin stuff and the puns in Carrie’s keyboard. Kind of the way that Fox News gets away with saying really wretched things by putting the words in the mouth of “liberals”.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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