As a big fan of Sex and the City, the HBO show that ran from 1998 to 2004, as well as Sex and the City, the 2008 film, I was genuinely excited for Sex and the City 2 when it arrived in theaters earlier this year. Sure, the ever-present skepticism of sequels to over-producing solo projects was there, but it was pushed back to the farthest field of my mind. I mean, come on – the first film wasn’t exactly a masterpiece of cinema. It was an ideal adaptation. They didn’t change things up and make it into something new for the big screen. The initial adventure was exactly what fans wanted – an emotionally charged, intermittently funny condensation of a full TV season. So how hard could it be to replicate a purely enjoyable experience one more time?
It turns out very, or at least harder than writer/director Michael Patrick King wanted to try. Sex and the City 2 is as lazy with choosing its storylines as the original was shrewd. I concede it might be hard to top the relevance of its predecessor. Big (Chris Noth) and Carrie’s (Sarah Jessica Parker) will-they-or-won’t-they relationship’s culmination truly felt like a show topper for a series focusing on Ms. Bradshaw’s single life. Most thought King might take the conventional next step and make Sex and the City 2 about Carrie having a baby, but Parker and her director nixed that idea out of respect for her character. Who could imagine Carrie carrying kids to the hottest new bar/club/fashion show in New York City, anyway?
Credit them for avoiding clichés, but that decision was where the wise choices ended. The film starts off OK, with our four leading ladies on their way to Carrie and Charlotte’s (Kristin Davis) gay best friends’ wedding. Yes, that’s right. The same two men who hated each other only a few years prior are now getting married. It was a fun scene in the original movie when good-natured Stanford (Willie Garson) and drama queen Anthony (Mario Cantone) kissed on New Years Eve, but fans remember how badly things went when the duo was first set up years earlier. They would never get together without being forced, as they are here to set up the vaguely misguided theme of individual couples establishing their own rules and breaking tradition.
Anthony tells the group he and his husband have agreed to let each other off the leash from time to time in order to preserve their (well, mainly Anthony’s) individual desires. Charlotte is obviously appalled. Samantha (Kim Cattrall) encourages the idea. Carrie starts to wonder about the implications to her own marriage. Sounds pretty standard, doesn’t it? The rest of the wedding scene is equally fun thanks in part to Liza Minnelli’s performance of “Single Ladies” and a classic Carrie quip about being between sex and a baby. Still, the shindig’s importance disappears as the movie moves forward.
The open relationship discussion leads to Carrie and Big discussing various ways to keep their marriage fresh, but none of them are pressing enough to justify a feature film. Big wants to stay home. Carrie wants to go out. Big wants to order in or cook dinner himself. Carrie wants to eat out. Big wants to watch TV. Carrie doesn’t. These aren’t even up to the half-hour show’s high standards. Heck, these aren’t even real problems. They’re minor differences in an otherwise passion filled romance inexplicably designed to make Big look like the bad guy for wanting to cook for his wife…huh?
Most of these concerns are largely abated by the time the film’s first 45-minutes are over (which one might think would make them irrelevant, but apparently they really do matter), and the film shifts focus to the most lavish free vacation anyone has ever imagined. Given to them by a prospective client of Samantha, the girls fly off to Abu Dhabi on an extravagant getaway because all four are in need of some “glamour”. The trip takes up the majority of the film, an odd choice for a show that takes so much of its identity from its home city, but it’s never really justified as a necessary excursion for anyone involved. It’s merely a miscalculated decision by King and Parker to make their movie bigger than the last, a classic symptom of sequelitis.
Herein lies the movie’s most egregious error. King and producer Sarah Jessica Parker completely misunderstand the current social climate. One may not think this would be an issue with what should be escapist summer fun, but King’s choices as a writer force the film into unwelcome territories. It can’t ignore the economic turmoil surrounding it, but it goes about it in the absolute wrong way. Instead of scaling back or even just keeping an even keel with the past displays of the girls’ posh NYC lifestyle, King and Parker decided to go above and beyond. They persuaded themselves that fans wanted to sit in a crummy theater and pay $12 (or shell out $25 to own it) to watch wealthy movie stars parade around in the lap of luxury.
They were so convinced that they let the story completely slip away from them, instead substituting lengthy sequences of nothing but staring at stars staring at fancy Abu Dhabi hotel rooms, beaches, and palaces. At least 15-minutes is devoted to what feels like a tourist ad for something no one watching the movie could ever afford. In addition to being in opposition to its audiences’ interests, it’s extraneous, drawn out, and boring – three things unacceptable for an already elongated movie.
Many critics complained about the first film’s product placement and devotion to fancy couture, but they were wrong to do so then. The S and the City series has always taken pride in setting fashion trends and introducing its audience to new styles and designers. It encourages experimentation (debates over Sarah Jessica Parker’s outfits are so common her style choices get reviewed more than her movies). All of the gaudy costumes and jewelry were 100 percent relevant to the first film in the eyes of its fans, but the same cannot be said for the sequel. They don’t focus on contemporary fashion once they get overseas. They focus on Middle Eastern interior design, a wish no fan made before, during, or after the film.
They do expect the film to make a statement, yet they probably expected something more along the subtle lines of the show (general statements about friendship, casual sex, and women in the work place that combined for a powerful portrait). This being the Middle East, though, King and Parker couldn’t exactly avoid the topic of female oppression. Instead of making a statement (other than it’s bad), the gang makes a joke of it. During the film’s final scene in Abu Dhabi, a fed-up Samantha makes a scene in public and outrages the conservative men watching. She screams “I have sex!” and thrusts her pelvis at the furious spectators in what is probably the movie’s funniest and most empowering scene. Unfortunately, what happens next strips every small bit of joy from the preceding incident.
A group of native women escort the foursome to a private room, offering them shelter from the angry men. But when the women remove their abayas, they reveal the most outlandish dresses money could buy. Low cut with lots of cleavage and jewelry, the women of the UAE look gorgeous by American standards. It’s like King wanted the audience to exclaim, “OMG! They’re hot! Everything’s OK now!”
In “A Conversation with Sarah Jessica Parker and Director Michael Patrick King”, an extra on the Blu-ray disc, King talks about how the women’s disrobing represents the surprise of what’s underneath us all. Despite outer appearances, you just might find something shocking in someone’s personality or a couple’s relationship. That’s quite the stretch to make considering the more immediate implications of their actions made my rather rowdy midnight screening audience go silent in shock. Still, at least he didn’t say the scene was “why the movie works” as he does at least five times in the 25-minute interview. Too bad none of the scenes he mentions actually do.
The rest of the discussion is pretty tame, but at least the other special features give us some great shots behind the scenes. “Styling Sex and the City” features a good five minutes solely on the ‘80s flashback scene, including some new looks at the absolutely stunning outfits (no words on what Parker thought of her perm, though). “Marry Me, Liza!” doesn’t just focus on the titular guest star, but the wedding in general. “The Men of Sex and the City” is almost 30-minutes long and doesn’t just discuss the men found in the movie, but all the main men throughout the entire series. King and Cantone play host throughout until the final five minutes where they turn into game show hosts for a short trivia game.
You might have to use the pause button if you really want to play (they give the answers pretty quick), but die-hard fans will be rewarded for their attention. There’s also a short doc on ‘80s fashion (they cover it really well) and a behind-the-scenes feature with Alicia Keys focusing on the film’s soundtrack. Though nothing on here overcomes the horrendous feature and makes the disc worth owning, collectors will be glad there’s something worth watching when they pick up their copy out of obligation.
Hopefully those purists will be the only ones picking up their copies of Sex and the City 2. Misjudging the needs of a film audience is a serious flaw in and of itself, but misreading your fan base is the cardinal sin of a franchise. At least fans can take comfort in the low box office tally of Sex and the City 2. If there is a Sex and the City 3, the middling receipts of its predecessor should force the filmmakers back to the top of their game if they want to earn back their money. Clearly, self-respect isn’t a factor.