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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sex and the City 2: Double take

click to enlarge YOU'RE GONNA NEED TO SIT DOWN FOR THIS ONE: The 'Sex and the City' girls take on Abu Dhabi
  • YOU'RE GONNA NEED TO SIT DOWN FOR THIS ONE: The 'Sex and the City' girls take on Abu Dhabi

Two of our writers, Bobby Feingold and Besha Rodell, both attended advance screenings of Sex and the City 2 this week. And both left with completely different points of view on the film. Here are their takes. We can't help but wonder ... who do you side with?

Sex and the City 2 divides the genders

Men are from Abu Dhabi, Women are from Venus

By Bobby Feingold

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I'm so ashamed. I went into Sex and the City 2 ready to be ruthless. Even listening to the Scary Sadshaws (a term coined by blogger Emily Gould for wannabes of main character Carrie Bradshaw) seated next to me prattling about cosmos and shoes was preparing me for a painful movie experience. But something happened. After trying to appeal to all demographics with the first movie, the "Sex and the City" creators finally realized only two types of people would be seeing their film: gay men and the women who love them. Director and screenwriter Michael Patrick King created a campy free-for-all that may as well be porn for recession-era women.

The original HBO series began as a semi-realistic look at single New York City women in their 30s but soon morphed into a fairytale for ladies with an appetite for luxury. After ending in 2004, the show was edited for network TV. Soon moms were watching reruns on the WB and telling their friends that they're a Charlotte (Kristin Davis). But Charlotte is the worst character — I refuse to believe that Samantha (Kim Cattrall) would ever be friends with her — and so the first Sex and the City movie felt it had to pander to these tamer, older fans and the husbands that were supposedly dragged to the theater.

Thank God they realized no man will ever watch this movie, and if you do drag your heterosexual male significant other, it should be only for punishment purposes. The series is now a cartoon starring Botoxed female caricatures whose tight faces could snap at any moment. Like special "Scooby Doo" episodes featuring the Harlem Globetrotters or Phyllis Diller, the "Sex" girls (yes, they still call each other "girls" into their 40s) are on a wacky adventure in the Middle East. Abu-Dhabi-Doo. Even the Asshole Formerly Known as Big, now loving husband John (Chris Noth), has his hair dyed, skin fake tanned, and chest shaven.

At least they didn't name the movie Sex and the City 2: Sex and the Desert and the Revenge of Samantha's Dried Cooch like all the other long-titled summer flicks of late. But there were a few aberrations that were hard to take, namely the gay marriage of Stanford Blatch (Willie Garson) and Anthony Marentino (Mario Cantone). In the show, Blatch, Carrie's (Sarah Jessica Parker) gay best friend, and Anthony, that of Charlotte, were set up on a blind date but immediately hated each other in an episode illustrating the utterly true point that girls should never set up their gay best friends. (Just don't do it!) But the movie opens with this bitter pill, made semi-palatable by the over-the-top gay glitziness pervasive in the first part of the film. Most of the plentiful cameos were needless and distracting, especially that of the gorgeous Penélope Cruz. But Liza Minnelli's performance of "Single Ladies" left the theater in stitches. Sex and the City knows that glamor can distract from any discrepancy.

The girls are back to their normal antics, and it's nice to know Carrie is still a self-absorbed drama queen, making everything about her, and Charlotte still an uptight doormat. Carrie hates her married life to Big where he is always sitting on the couch, ordering Thai take-out, even though the whole show centered around her lame attempts at getting him to commit. Charlotte, whose storyline is the most fleshed-out of the four, is unable to deal with the stress of motherhood, though she has hired help of a busty Irish woman. While drinking and confiding in Miranda, Charlotte asks through her tears, "How do the women without help do it?" Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) answers, "I have no fucking idea" and they toast to the women without help. I believe women fantasize about this life.

The ultimate payoff comes when Samantha, after being arrested in Abu Dhabi law for "kissing" a man in public, is sick of the country's "anti-sex" ways and having a hot flash due to customs not allowing her plethora of hormone pills into the country. In short shorts and with her cleavage glistening, her purse breaks while in the old spice market and condoms go flying everywhere. To an angry crowd of Arab men, she starts screaming, "I'm a woman! I have sex!" and flipping all of them off. It's so hard to tell these days between sexual revolutionary and cougar. The girls are saved by a group of Arab women in the market, pulling them into a dark room. There, the Abu Dhabi women are reading Suzanne Somer's new book (Samantha's current favorite) and wearing the latest Louis Vuitton outfits under their black burkas — just like Carrie and crew!

While the Arab men are outright in their misogynistic practices, Miranda realizes that her male boss in the States is just as demeaning. American men have to pretend to be OK with women in power, she decides. Women, though, universally love expensive fashion and self-help books. At its heart, Sex and the City 2 tries to make the point that all men are from Abu Dhabi while women are from Venus, but I don't think you can draw such a conclusion from just a few Saudi Sadshaws.

click to enlarge LIZAS! ALL LIZAS!: Not even Liza Minnelli can save 'Sex and the City 2'
  • LIZAS! ALL LIZAS!: Not even Liza Minnelli can save 'Sex and the City 2'

Good riddance to Sex and the City!

These people really think we're suckers, don't they?

By Besha Rodell

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

That’s it. I’m done. I’ve gone as far as I can go into the driveling depths. Sex and the City and I have officially broken up.

OK, so the latest movie props up Liza Minnelli like a geriatric puppet and bounces her along to Beyoncé. So Carrie looks good in a tux. So Smith Jarred (Jason Lewis) is still hot. These things do not excuse what horrors this movie perpetrates on the image of the American woman, an image that this franchise helped to build.

After the fun and campy opening, the movie slumps into a series of hackneyed and, frankly, embarrassing clichés, and borderline offensive slapstick. When Samantha impresses a rich sheik (Arabs are made up exclusively of rich sheiks and terrorists, right?), the ladies are swept off into a world of desert glamor in Abu Dhabi. Which is great except for those pesky cultural differences.

While it may be true that fundamentalist Arab culture is steeped in outrageous misogyny, I fail to see how Samantha Jones, barely clad, screeching about sex and flinging condoms all over the place in an Abu Dhabi marketplace, is the shot of girl power that culture needs to rise out of the dark ages. And the barf-tastic moment in which the Arab women lift off burkas to reveal a bunch of expensive designer clothes (the main example of which looked like the wearer had regurgitated a Fraggle down the front of her), made me shelve my hopes for womankind. We’re doomed, ladies, if we think this is empowerment.

I could go on. The girls’ jaunt through the marketplace in burkas is embarrassingly Three Stooges-esque. Carrie’s leg-baring, from beneath a burka to hail a cab is both culturally tone-deaf and the cheapest of laughs. But the worse crime is that the plot line here, the Carrie-Big-Aidan-Carrie-Big drama, is weak. As in, nothing really happens. And, that everything can be solved with jewelry. Ugh.

Before you accuse me of high-minded elitism, let me assure you that I can get as lost in Season 6 On Demand as the next shoe-starved idiot. I love the show. I even liked the first movie, despite the Jennifer Hudson debacle. But this movie proves the naysayers right. It proves our disbelieving male counterparts and grumpy Boomer moms, who have never understood the appeal, correct that the whole enterprise is just mindless consumerist drivel. I wouldn’t be surprised if it gives the very misogynist culture it tries so clumsily to discredit ample firepower, and a better brand of firepower than regular fundamentalist doctrine.

There were moments in the movie, particularly Miranda and Charlotte’s drunken mommy-confessional, which delivered something close to that familiar "SATC" warmth and humor. The best and most touching moment comes when Carrie manages to coax out the story of her hotel butler, giving us a tender portrait of love in a global, service-driven economy. Even Samantha howling “Lawrence of my labia!” at the desert sky gave me that old pun-tastic thrill. But damn. I kept thinking throughout, “these people think we are suckers.” The makers of this movie think we will come in droves, we will buy shoes for the occasion, we will throw money at the box office just to get a glimpse of that magic. We’re like a menopausal Samantha ogling a rugby team and waiting for the spark in her crotch to re-ignite. It doesn’t matter what crap ends up on the screen. We’ll show up anyway.

And they’re right. Girl power indeed.

Sex and the City 2 opens today, May 27.

(Photos by Craig Blankenhorn)

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