[23 June 2010]
OK, we get it. Sex and the City 2 is bad. Horrible even. In fact, I would be willing to wager that the Razzie committee could skip the hoopla right now and go to the trophy shop and have the movie title and director Michael Patrick King engraved in their Worst Picture and Worst Director trophies.
It’s not surprising the movie was roundly panned by critics. What came as a surprise was where the critics were directing their complaints. A punishing length of two-and-a-half hours? Sure. King’s inability to translate small screen drama to the big screen? No argument there. But when the criticisms moved into condemning the behavior of the four women in the movie, the reviews actually shed more light on the personalities of the movie critics (mostly male) than of what Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte were doing on the screen. In one political cartoon, the four ladies were walking on the beach and a beachgoer was complaining that toxic waste was already hitting the beach.
New York Times reporter Manohla Dargis referenced some of the more scathing pans in her article. Dargis pointed out some glaring hypocrisies when it came to the outrage many critics expressed over how the women behaved in Abu Dhabi. Kyle Smith of the New York Post complained “the girls aren’t interested in anything except shopping, drinking and strutting through the desert in slo-mo…” A.O. Scott of the New York Times lamented “the ugly smell of unexamined privilege hangs over this film like the smoke from cheap incense.” However, both gave favorable reviews to The Hangover, which also featured characters behaving badly, and who shared the same love of partying and drinking as the girls in Sex in the City 2.
Addressing the cultural insensitivity in the movie, Claudia Puig of USA Today spoke for many critics when she called the movie “an affront to Muslims.” To Puig’s credit, the Muslim religion is routinely handled different than from other religions when it comes to jokes and satire. Just ask the creators of South Park. But the cries of political incorrectness are almost comical. After all, the same critics who have admonished Sex in the City 2 for its lack of cultural understanding have praised Borat, Wedding Crashers, and The Hangover for their brazen political incorrectness. Can you imagine the uproar that would have occurred if the girls kidnapped, depants and stuck one of the males in Abu Dhabi into the back of their limousine and left him there overnight? But in The Hangover, Ken Jeong’s over-the-top Asian American stereotype who received that same fate, received little more than a shrug from reviewers. They were too busy laughing at the movie.
Much has also been made about the appearance of the characters. As all four women are now well into their 40s and 50s, bloggers and late night comedians have made fun of how bad these women look on the big screen. Funny though, I didn’t hear the same types of jokes directed at the pudgy, wrinkled, middle-aged blokes that occupied the cinematic stinker Wild Hogs.
Of course the physical double standard between men and women is nothing new. But one of the most striking criticisms revolve around how spoiled the women are in the movie. One of the major storylines (though calling it a storyline is a stretch) is Carrie’s midmarriage blahs with her “Mr. Big” (Chris Noth). Andrew O’Hehir of Salon wrote “When Carrie asks Big, ‘Am I just a bitch wife who nags you?’ I could hear all the straight men in the theater…being physically prevented from responding.” Yes, in the real world, most women would love to be in Carrie’s shoes and most guys would kill to have a life like Mr. Big, so Carrie should have nothing to complain about. But in many guy comedies, the guy characters deals with similar relationship blahs. Think Billy Crystal’s character in City Slickers or Ed Helms’ character in The Hangover. For critics and audiences, these guys are addressing their middle-aged blues. But it seems if a woman expresses the slightest trepidation about their relationships, they’re labeled as ungrateful or bitches.
While a double standard may exist, it’s safe to say that the reason people gave a pass to such politically incorrect comedies as Wedding Crashers, The Hangover, and The 40 Year Old Virgin was because each supplied far more belly laughs than Sex in the City 2. To prove that a double standard does or doesn’t exist, there will need to be a comedy involving a bunch of women at the center of the story, engaging in the same antics as the characters in those guy-centered classics, and be written as well or hopefully better than any of those comedies. And judging by the response from critics from that movie, we will be able to see if such a standard exists. Until then, sadly, women will have to settle for Sex in the City 2 for their “girls behaving badly” movie. They deserve better.