Sex and the City isn’t a movie per se. It’s a cultural phenomenon. As a movie, it’s only so-so. As an event–it’s terrific.
Let me explain. I’ve never seen the TV series (1998-2004). Anybody who watches as many movies and reads as many books as I do, doesn’t have time for TV. But I did have time to read the reviews of other movie critics (mostly male) and overhear a few male moviegoers dissing the movie, before they even saw it. I was shocked at their language. These men were discussing this movie, not as a unit of entertainment–was it a good movie, would it make money, etc? –but in terms of their annoyance at the anticipated shallowness of the women characters. (As if there is no such thing as a shallow male character — duh!!!) It was mind-boggling in this day and age that a simple female fantasy film could provoke such vitriolic anti-woman comments.
So I was pretty leery about seeing the movie. And if truth be known, I wasn’t predisposed myself to like it. A story about four label-obsessed women, who spend too much money on clothes and lunch? Not a political activist, or tree-hugger among them. Hey, these gals don’t even have hobbies. In other words, they are exactly the kinds of women I would have nothing in common with. I was prepared to see the movie as if I were one of the boys.
No one was more astonished than I to realize when I was watching the movie that not only was I not hating it — I was actually liking it! I kept saying to myself–what’s wrong with me? I’m liking this inane piece of over-hyped fluff. Am I losing my mind?
Even more astonishing, was the post-viewing effect–I thought about the characters in the movie for days afterwards. The degree of emotional staying power in a movie is the main way I determine its value. Obviously this movie touched me on some deep emotional level — but it took me days to figure out exactly how that happened. More on that in a few paragraphs. Let’s go to the story, little that there is.
There are four 40-something Manhattan heroines whose TV series lives are brought up to date in the movie. Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) the writer, is still single and after ten years is still in love with her tycoon paramour whom she calls Mr. Big. (Chris Noth). When Mr. Big announces they should tie the knot and moves Carrie into a glorious penthouse with walk-in closets that are bigger than most houses in third world countries, Carrie and her friends band together to help her mount the biggest and most ridiculously fashionable wedding in New York history.
Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall) is now based in L.A., where she is the full-time manager of her boy toy Jerry Jerrod (Jason Lewis), an up and coming TV star. Though he’s embarrassingly gorgeous, Jerry is actually a super-nice guy and sincerely wants to make Samantha happy. But she, at age 50, remains allergic to commitment and wants to be seduced by the frisky French Lothario (Gilles Marini) in the beach condo next door.
Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon) is a high-octane attorney who married a simple guy, Steve (David Heigenberg) and is now the stressed-out stepmom to his child. She’s too busy to make love anymore and one night Steve foolishly confesses he did it with another woman. Miranda goes into a self-righteous fit and moves out.
Charlotte York (Kristin Davis) is happily married to Harry Goldenblatt (Evan Handler) with whom she’s adopted a Chinese baby and is desperately trying to get pregnant. When she’s not checking her ovulation cycle, she’s obsessively running to keep in shape.
Mr. Big, though he loves Carrie, is facing his third go-round down the aisle and is not thrilled with the escalating wedding plans. He gets Antarctica feet at the last minute and, predictably, takes off in his limo and leaves Carrie alone at the altar. Of course, we all knew this was going to happen, but it’s so awful, that I admit I felt like crying my eyes out. The cad! The brute! Oh, men!
The rest of the movie is how Carrie copes with her betrayal. More important, it’s how her girlfriends gather around her, and do whatever they can, in all their different ways, to help her recover. This is not the glamorous part of the movie–but it’s where the movie takes its heart and soars. For better or worse, each woman tries to help Carrie put her life together after her major heartbreak and excruciatingly public humiliation.
None of the characters is particularly likeable, in fact, they’re all so self-absorbed, I’d like to wring a few of their swan-like necks. But the women like one another–that is the point of the movie. It’s about women who are friends and who stick together through thin and thinner. They travel together, they lunch, they shop, they lust after fashionable dresses and Manolos Blahniks, they cry, they hug, they keep secrets and then reveal them–in other words they are close friends.
And that’s what is phenomenal about Sex and the City. Even women who say they love the movie, if pressed, will admit it’s not a good movie. But they’re not watching this movie as analytical movie critics — they’re watching this movie because it reminds them of something extraordinarily valuable in life, something that once possessed, they always long for. No matter how overwhelmed women can be with their mid-life roles as wife, mother, corporate ladder climber, they never really forget the unique affection that existed with their close girlfriends when they were young and single. It doesn’t matter that finding Mr. Right was their overwhelming goal back then, the people they shared their most intimate selves with were their girlfriends.
And that’s why men don’t get this movie. It’s not about them. The male characters in the movie are one-dimensional and insignificant. Just the opposite of most movies, where the women are one-dimensional and insignificant–turn around’s fair play I guess, but not appreciated.
The afternoon I saw Sex and the City, there was wild applause when the movie ended. The audience wasn’t complimenting the artistic quality of the movie–they were cheering its beautiful message–they were in praise of girlfriends.