Sunday, May 30, 2010

What Tami Said can save you $8: My review of "Sex and the City 2"

[Maybe there are spoilers in this review. I don’t think so. Frankly, I think there is nothing I could possibly do to make the shitfest that is Sex and the City 2 worse.]

Allow me to save you $8. Here is the plot of Sex and the City 2: Four privileged white women take a break from relentlessly moaning about their privileged lives to go on an Orientalist fantasy excursion to Abu Dhabi, where they are each assigned a brown servant to wait on them as they maraud through the country, dressed like assholes, exoticizing people, mocking culture, flouting religious custom, rubbing yams on their bodies and, on occasion, because they are our heroines, “saving” the natives with their American liberation and largess.

SATC was always only about a certain type of woman, despite media attempts to make Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte into everywomen. The series presented a fictionalized view of white, wealthy, female Manhattanites. But the friendships between the protagonists felt universal. And as cartoonish as the individual characters could be, I saw pieces of them in the women around me, if not in myself. When the show first debuted, I was single in the city myself:
When "Sex" debuted in 1998, I was single and 20-something in a big city and it was fun to watch single, carefree women, who lived in a bigger city with bigger apartments, cooler jobs, more money, better shoes and more sex with hotter guys. It was fun fantasy. Read more…
I got older. And so have the characters in SATC, but it occurs to me that the franchise’s male creators aren’t quite sure what to do with women over 40. And so they have taken four flawed but generally likable women and made them repugnant.

Two of the franchise’s characters seem emotionally stunted: Charlotte’s chirpy childishness—always a little icky—seems gross coming from a twice-married woman with two children. Carrie’s self-centered flakiness and drama-whoring is exhausting. Samantha and Miranda are unrecognizable—Sam having gone from an independent woman in charge of her sexuality to a desperate caricature fighting to hold on to her youth. (Note: Chris Noth, who plays Mr. Big, is two years older than Kim Cattrall, who plays Samantha. Interesting that Samantha is portrayed as fading, while Big still gets to be…well…Mr. Big) Miranda quits her job because the new partner at the firm is a sexist jerk. No fight. She simply gives up, which seems completely out of character.

Meanwhile, as the main characters go from iconic to pitiable, there exists a faux girl power thread running through the film. The protagonists even, inexplicably, sing “I Am Woman” in an Abu Dhabi karaoke club. SATC was never as feminist as it was made out to be. It sure as hell wouldn’t pass the Bechdel Test. But now it seems as un-empowering and pandering as a those pink “girl” computers by Dell.

Privilege on parade

The action in SATC 2 is more eye-roll inducing than relateable.

Charlotte, a full-time mom with a full-time, live-in nanny, snaps when her older daughter gets finger paint on the vintage couture skirt Charlotte is wearing while making cupcakes in her deluxe kitchen. Later, she and Miranda patronizingly offer a toast “to them,” mothers who don’t have help, that is.

Now that she has snagged her Mr. Big and is settled into a two-year marriage, Carrie, as ever, seems to want something else. She grumbles that the couple stayed in for dinner “two nights last week.” She kvetches when Big gets her a flat-screen TV for their anniversary, demanding diamonds instead. (Note to my husband, if he should read this: Our anniversary is next month, and, unlike Carrie, I would not give the side-eye to a flat screen.) She gussies up and goes out for dinner with her ex-fiancee. She escapes to her old apartment for two days, then pouts when Big suggests that maybe a weekly break is what their marriage needs. She is petulant and childish, then regretful and teary.

When Samantha, who is fighting off aging with pills by the bagful, drops her panties in her glass-walled office to rub some elixir on her vagina (Yeah, you read that right.), the movie viewer doesn’t relate to the difficulties of female aging, but rather feels sorry for her female assistant who has to work with her arrogant and clueless boss’ lady bits in her face.

Gays and brown people and Muslims…oh my!

The women of SATC spend very little time in their whitewashed New York City during this film. But they are there long enough to attend the wedding of Stanford and Anthony, friends of Carrie and Charlotte respectively, who have until this film hated each other passionately. The “girls” treat the marriage like the fortunate pairing of two accessories. “My best gay friend is marrying her best gay friend!” Charlotte pipes to a saleswoman, sliding the invitation to the GAY WEDDING toward her as proof. It feels incredibly othering. I wonder if the guests at my wedding favored the staff at Marshall Fields with stories about their soon-to-be-betrothed “best black friends.” BLACK WEDDING…Whoooo!

But it’s when the fearsome foursome arrive in the Middle East when privilege, racism and ignorance meet in an unholy trifecta. Here is what we learn: All you need to know about Arab countries, you have already learned in “Aladdin.” If you have a Jewish married name, do not use it on a trip to Abu Dhabi. In an Arab country, be sure to wear expensive clothing reminiscent of the aforementioned cartoon. Two words—gold harem pants. Arab men are either frightening crazy-eyed religious fundamentalists or hot manservants. By the way, it is not at all creepy to accept the services of said hot, brown manservants. Oh, and if one such manservant is gay…Jackpot! Two new accessories for the price of one! Refer to him as Paula Abdul. No woman ever follows the tenets of Islam by choice. All women who wear abaya or niqab are oppressed and secretly want to be white, wealthy, American women who wear revealing couture. Arab women who are not oppressed may be belly dancers in Western-styled nightclubs. It is feminist to travel to Muslim countries and expose yourself, simulate fellatio on a hookah, grab a man’s penis in a restaurant and possibly have sex on a public beach. If you are trying to communicate in an Arab country and cannot find the right words, saying “lalalalalala” will get your point across. It is always good to award your magical brown person with material gifts in exchange for their mystical wisdom, because they are, obviously “less fortunate.” (Last film, Carrie gives poor, black Jennifer Hudson’s character an expensive purse for her services. In this film, she leaves her poor Indian servant money to fly home to see his wife. People of color, on the rare occasion they appear in SATC, are never equals to the main characters.)

The movie is plain bad

Now, I am sure there are those who will say that I am thinking too deeply about a movie that is meant to be a bit of fluff. For you, I will share that SATC’s problems are not all about the portrayal of women, privilege, race or religion. Before any of those things pricked my nerves, I was already sighing at the films stilted dialogue, awkward group dynamic, hackneyed situations and corny jokes that beg for a sitcom laugh track. And then there was the spectacle of seeing Liza Minelli performing “Single Ladies.” Yes, Liza with a “z” sings Beyonce with a “B.”

Need I say more?


Joanna said...

Women (and some men) watch Sex and the City and imagine they are the characters on the screen. The laugh when they laugh, they cry when they cry, they see this foursome as "typical" New York women on the move. On the other hand, I used to watch Sex and the City to LAUGH at these women. I think they make a mockery of the "independent woman" ethos because really it is all about two things: flaunting their status in the face of others who do not have the same privileged existence that they do, and "completing" themselves by finding the right romantic or sexual partner. Maybe it is just me, ut their proclamations about what "real" women do and think seems patently ridiculous. "Real" women cannot always afford $500 shoes, "real" women do not think that moving to Brooklyn is a form of exiles, and DAMN what Carrie says, "real" women sometimes WEAR SCRUNCHIES!

Kelly Hogaboom said...

Now that I read this I am so glad you went and saw it so you could write it. You suffered that we might gain. Thank you for this post. I'd thought perhaps SATC2 might have some of these elements but the level of Fail you delineate here is impressive.

Thank you also for pointing out the initial sell of the show, that is a glimmer of real female friendship. I shall seek it out in film and television where it doesn't become distorted, ugly, white supremacist, insulting, etc.

windy city girl said...

Thanks Tami. You watched it so I don't have to. Frankly, I didn't care for the first movie (was ambivalent - at best - about the TV series); and saw no need for a sequel, for all the reasons you ably recapped in your post.

Race Fail
Gender Fail
Heterosexism Fail
Class Fail

Not to mention the bad writing.

Thank you for taking one for the team

TheFeministBreeder said...

I've always seen these characters as a parody of feminism, designed to poke fun at these "types" of women. I'm pretty sure we all know that Charlotte is a clueless racist - don't we? Or does somebody take her seriously? I certainly never did. And I don't think anything they stand for is "feminist" in any way. To me, it was just a fantasy world where women get to have sex with every hot guy they see (you know, because hot rich guys are, like, everywhere - right?) and then suffer the endless consequences of their failed relationships.

Carrie got what she deserved: Big is still a douchebag.

Charlotte got what she deserved: being a mother (whether you're wearing couture OR sweatpants) can suck ass some times.

And now, Samantha is feeling the effects of gravity.

Does no one see the hilarity, or the irony, in any of that?

The Student Professor said...

Wish I would have seen this blog before the movie. Well, I probably still would have gone anyway. I'm like an addict. Even knowing, via trailers, that this movie was going to suck in terms of dialogue, to be racist and classist as its core, and to ignore the realities of what it is to be a woman, I paid $9 to watch it and feel sick to my stomach. Enjoyed the popcorn, tho. With butter of course. No yams.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review. Gee...I don't know if I want to even order this via Netflix! They should have quit while they were ahead after the series ended.

RVCBard said...

Wow! I saved like $20 by not seeing this crap!

Thank you!

Trevor said...

LOVED this review. The humor and insight were refreshing and well-written.

bayoucreole said...

You are the third person that I've read who blogged about how bad this movie is. Thanks for your input because, after reading it, I will be saving my $8.00.

Anonymous said...

This review is how the movie should have been:
Fun, well thought out, witty.

The movie fails at every front imaginable.

Well, except at failing. It's probably getting an Oscar just for fail...

Amanda and SuperAmanda™ said...

Great review, thank you. I always wondered why SJP who came from a Leftist/McGovern supporting family that were also Civil rights activists, ended up creating far reaching pop cultural traditions that are primarily aimed at the white upper class elite. I don't begrudge her a living but this goes beyond a goofy film franchise into the type of phenomenon that as we all can see dictates social mores. She also seems unhappy on and off screen but I may just be reading too much into things.
I've been unable to watch MadMen despite the curvy bods and great clothing for similar reasons of stereotyping. Friends interest in any of them. Our cities are diverse.

My hair is in a scrunchie as usual. For those who can't afford a blow dry it's great to let your hair dry in them. They'll out live SATC for usefulness.


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