Friday, June 13, 2008


I’m obsessed with reading reviews of the Sex and The City movie. I saw the film about 2 weeks ago in NYC with my friend Rose, and although we thought a lot of things at the time, my opinions have become much more intelligent since I’ve started to absorb everyone else’s.

Every review seems to make the point that the movie is basically just a bloated TV show, which means it works for the fans (who customarily binge on 5 episodes of the series at a time), but not as a movie in and of itself. The bizarro plot of Samantha’s own bloated-ness is case in point. While this may have been a cutesy ‘Should We Let Ourselves Go For The Ones We Love?’ theme for a 30 minute episode, it seems an odd thing to etch in to cinematic history. But maybe it just jarred with me cos I have bad body image.

There are reviews which also try to tackle a lot more. One piece from The New Yorker takes issue with the conspicuous consumption of the movie. In another review, Stephanie Zacharek brings up my most treasured topic: race, in this hilarious paragraph:

“The writing doesn't serve Parker particularly well, either. Because Carrie is a very busy, very successful, but very disorganized New York writer, she decides she needs an assistant. The woman she hires, Louise (Jennifer Hudson, who gives a likable, openhearted performance), turns out to be a godsend to her. I'm sure the intention was to add a nonwhite character to the mix, and that's not a bad impulse -- especially if you were to imagine a smart, capable, witty black woman holding her own at the brunch table. (Not to mention the fact that even a fantasy vision of New York with so few characters of color is, in 2008, simply incomprehensible.)
But why make your only adult character of color a wise, capable servant girl? Carrie spends too much time beaming magnanimously at Louise. The effect, unintentional but not dismissible, is a kind of "Mammy, what would I ever do without you?" superiority.”

There are also some wonderfully finicky points floating about. I love that Dana Stevens whinges about Carrie Bradshaw being a terrible writer. This was something that had mystified me for years too, though it also sheds light on the mind-boggling popularity of ‘Sydney’s own (self-dubbed ) Carrie Bradshaw’, Sam Brett. And I was tickled to note that had the exact same 1997-style web design as – swirls!

I got a kick out of this article by Julia Turner that complains the movie doesn’t have the stylistic integrity of the show, with its emphasis on high end designers.

And then I found myself thrilled to bits by the most bile drenched review I’ve ever come across, which makes the excellent point that “the girls who munch are now ladies who lunch—in all the wrong places. They’re supposed to be hip barometers for everything fresh and trendy in the Big Apple, so why do they hang out in Bryant Park and the Four Seasons? Real trailblazers would be photographed at the Beatrice Inn, Rose Bar in the Gramercy Park Hotel, Café Cluny and Gemma in the Bowery Hotel."

Not only did I feel pretty smug for having just been to that very bar in the Gramercy Park Hotel, but it echoed my general disappointment with the mythology of NYC.

There is this tedious subplot in the movie about Carrie having to get a new mobile number, which, devastatingly, doesn’t contain her old Manhattan zip code. It grated with Rose and I that the rest of the world is presumed to care a great deal about New York City. And young Australians seem to fall in to the trap. It is an essential destination for most of our trips abroad, and on return, everyone seems to breathlessly ask: “So did you love New York?!’ I personally found the whole place a bit bleak, I felt it was a great place if you want to achieve, that it feels like it's trading in on its cultural past, and that the only way to enjoy your time here is to consume. But what do I know anyway, I’m probably just getting intoxicated by my own contrarianism.

Far and away my favourite thing that united all the reviews was that every reviewer just LOVES reviewing this film; it feels important. Their ego is tied up in thinking they are up for the challenge. To this, I am no exception.

I kind of loved it and hated it. I loved the bits that tapped in to my fondness and nostalgia for the show; I liked seeing that little Brady was played by the same actor, that Carrie no longer smoked, that the relationships between the characters have changed- they all seem to be slightly less zealous friends with each other, and that Carrie is still really annoying- she insists on making a big deal out of borrowing library books and having an old phone. I thought most of the new bits, the movie part, were bad. The (I suppose, intentionally) boring subject matter of pre-nups, wedding logistics and purchasing property. The sheer volume of montages; and that Carrie spent much of the move looking like Mary-Kate at age 100, and one or two scenes where I actually thought she looked a bit like me.

So I guess I am finding myself feeling pulled back and forth by two conflicting narratives: the bits in the film that I liked and the bits that I hated.

I think this tension comes from my ingrained suspicion of a The Happy Ending. Personally, I wasn’t convinced that Big actually loved Carrie heaps (I think he expected to end up with someone hotter), but I couldn’t have been happier that they ended up getting married! I was a little perturbed by the message emitted when Charlotte finally gets pregnant, but truth be told I’m glad the doctors were clearly just having a lol all that time, cos she has a baby!

One of the annoying little devices the film used to gloss over these glaring imperfections were the presence of neat little couplets scattered throughout. The 'love' key ring… and then 'LOVE' IS THE PASSWORD! She reads love letters in bed with him… and then HE EMAILS HER THOSE SAME LOVE LETTERS!! The foul wedding suit at the start… AND THEN CARRIE GETS MARRIED IN THE SAME FOUL, ILL-FITTING SUIT AT THE END!!!!1

It’s the same contrived technique employed in smh opinion columns: if you start a piece with “I always dreamt of becoming an acrobat” and end it with “and who knows, maybe it’s not too late to become an acrobat” then it doesn’t matter what arbitrary rubbish you sandwich in the middle. The reader/viewer will congratulate themselves for having such a good memory and leave feeling satiated.

I loved the scene in the movie where Miranda and Carrie sit under a pagoda discussing Steve, and where Miranda explains her difficulty in negotiating the balance between her emotion and intellect. I feel a similar internal struggle when reviewing the reviews: I loved reading intelligent rants against the film, but i do feel a relief when i read equally intelligent justifications of why it is ok just to like it.

It’s a debate that’s raging on movestill at the moment with Michaella’s post about Converse. Is it worth nitpicking about our culture? Should we take a stand, or should we just enjoy it? Can we continue to use the device of rhetorical questions to abdicate really saying anything?

One of the reviews I really liked made an excellent point that made me think I’d thought of it myself. Carina Chocano thought the cliche that no men will see the movie was actually symptomatic of a much deeper problem, "the idea that we might watch movies to empathize with characters whose lives are different from ours but whose humanity links them to us is all but lost.”

The reviews also reflect this mentality. The people that hated the movie don’t see enough of themselves in the movie. Namely, they don’t see people on screen tearing movies in to shreds. The people who like the movie are perhaps those that see their own search for love, meaning or money reflected through Carrie.

This is hardly a new concept, we always look for ourselves in art and respond most to art that is truer of our lives. But there’s almost a role reversal, the regular people who loved the movie loved the movie for what it was, and walked away happily. But the people whose job it was to think critically about movies seem to take this one SO personally- as though the people onscreen are an extension of themselves: ‘well that was not MY Manhattan’, ‘I don’t like Carrie’s outfits anymore, I think it’s ridiculous to spend that much money on clothes!’

And I guess that’s not a new concept either- responses to adaptations of an existing art form are always more intense. They contain memories of the earlier material, responses to what's new, and a reading of the cultural impact in that time.

So this piece really has no natural ending. Basically, I think it’s both a good thing for people to enjoy the Sex and the City movie, and for people to think that their lives have more value than the Sex and the City movie. Maybe it’s not too late to become an acrobat after all.