Jun 14 2010

All Dressed Up With Nothing To Say

In an unfortunate summer that has yet to make a real impression on anyone, the lavish, designer label-laden Sex in the City 2 has garnered a bit of attention for being a critical and commercial failure.  Not only is it a terrible, but the content of the film has ruffled many a feather due to its obsession with fashion, wealth and its unabashed adherence to stereotypes long thought negative towards feminism.

Of course, many critics, myself included, are men, and all men are clearly threatened by powerful women.  At least, this is the response many Sex in the City fans give to those that find the film loathsome.  The puzzling thing is, all the criticisms I’ve read say little, if anything regarding Sex’s ideals of feminism.  Mostly, I assume, because there are very few examples of feminine independence or empowerment to be seen.

The Sex in the City series is, oddly enough, entirely different from its cinematic extensions: witty, insightful, and modern.  Yes, the battle of the sexes was a frequent source of humorous conflict, but the show never took the man/woman divide too seriously.  Instead, the series focused on finding that balance between romance, sex, work, family, independence, and finding one’s purpose, something we all can relate to.

Yes, the series was told from a woman’s point of view, but the show could hardly be called gender biased.  Sometimes things were the man’s fault, other times women were to blame.  At the end of the day, the men and women were just people, all with strengths and weaknesses, good days and bad, and were all capable making just as many mistakes as their counterparts.

It was this quality that made the show a symbol of feminism in the modern era.  Instead of calling attention to or insisting on a glass ceiling, men and women were all thrown onto a level playing field to duke it out.  If someone committed a foul, it was their fault as an individual, not as a man or woman.

With great source material such as this, its something of a conundrum that the Sex movies could turn such a corner, thus becoming what the series sought to avoid.  Men and women reverted back into simple stereotypes, relationship problems were easily avoided bits of conflict brought on by a character’s own self-absorbed sensibilities, and while the wit retained it’s bark, its bite had been reduced to a unenthusiastic nibble.

Yes, what was once a show with character and content had been turned into a scrapbook of fashion with storylines and dialogue that appeared to be written by those who had been more concerned with what Carrie was wearing, and less on what she or the others were saying.  The NYC, high society pop aesthetic that complimented the television program’s message had now become the message, and few fans seemed to notice.

Sex in the City 2 has drawn more negative attention to itself than it’s predecessor.  Critics and fans alike have left their local multiplexes with a bitter taste in their mouths, wondering what has become of their Fabulous Foursome.  To be frank, Sex 2 is just as bad as the first film; the characters are flat, the conflict is forced, and the insight on relationships and the human condition pales in comparison to the television series.

The only difference between the two is the time period.  In 2008, the recession was only just beginning, and few were privy to just how bad things were going to get.  Now, only two years later, the aftermath has left much of the country feeling bitter towards frivolous wealth and easy privilege, which would explain the acidic hatred towards Sex 2.  Much, if not all of the film revolves around the preening of a wealth that is as easy to enjoy as it is utterly unattainable.

When pennies become more and more difficult to pinch, its difficult to applaud the concept of money for nothing, from nothing.  Unfortunately, its this quality that defines the world of the Sex in the City films.

The film’s central premise begins when Samantha pitches an idea to go on an all-expenses-paid trip to Abu Dabi, which includes a twenty thousand dollar-a night suite and four personal, round-the-clock servants.  “I’m tired of this bullshit economy,” she says, “we need to go somewhere rich.”  There is so much wrong with this line of dialogue that I don’t know where to even begin.

Film is, amongst other things, an escape from reality, and with the dark cloud of the recession over everyone’s heads, it’s not unreasonable to want to hide away from it for a few hours at a time.  And yet, the movie doesn’t so much escape from the economy as it does place itself into the center of the boundless greed and frivolous spending that contributed to the economic crisis in the first place.

And why bring it up in the first place?  None of the characters appear to have been affected by it.  Sure, in the beginning of the film, Carrie mentions the recession, but does so as she opens her fully stocked walk-in closet.  There is something very disingenuous about a film trying to appeal to the woes of the masses while simultaneously rubbing their faces in the things they don’t have.

Of course, it’s not fair to blame someone for having money, nor is it fair to hate someone for using it.  Yet it’s not about the money, or the clothes, or the shoes per se; it’s the mindset, the lifestyle, the approach to said wealth.  With pockets near-empty and money tight, the last thing anyone wants to see is a group of people throwing fistfuls of cash into the air like it’s a big party.

As if watching a quartet of Daisy Buchanans gorging themselves on luxury for the sake of itself wasn’t bad enough, Sex in the City 2 gives us the worst example of motherhood in a long time.  Charlotte (Kirstin Davis), the saccharine traditionalist of the group, finally has the family she has wanted since episode one of the series.  Unfortunately, being a mother proves to be difficult (who knew?), and the benefits of a picturesque family fail to outweigh the hardships of raising children.  Then again, Charlotte doesn’t exactly raise her children.

Yes, Charlotte has outsourced an Irish nanny for her children who does so much work with the kids that she is more of a behind-the-scene mommy for the kids.  In fact, the only time we see Charlotte with her children results in her locking herself in the pantry crying while the nanny takes the kids into the next room.

In a particularly infuriating scene, Charlotte and Miranda, who actually struggles to raise her kid, have a one-on-one heart-to-heart about the hardships of being a mom.  The talk ends with a toast to all mothers who seem to cope without help, which is one of the most disingenuous things I have ever seen.  Don’t, I repeat, DON’T try to disguise pity with admiration, and don’t attempt to align yourselves with mothers who are on their own.  They are out of your league.

I wish I could say that the moral of this sub-plot is to make sure you have the emotional wherewithal to handle raising children, but that would require responsibility and a devotion to something that isn’t money or clothes; wrong film for that, I’m afraid.  Spoiler alert: Charlotte’s revelation by the end of the film is to hide away in Carrie’s old brownstone when she needs to recover from a long day of watching someone else raise her kids.  Bigger than a pantry I suppose.

There is a scene in which the girls read a very negative review on Carrie’s most recent book, which is about marriage, and instantly dismiss it because the critic is a man, and all men hate empowered women.  Several online responses to the film’s criticisms say the same thing.  My response: What empowerment?

There is no example of empowerment in this film, female or otherwise.  Carrie is a nagging wife who cheats on her husband while abroad, Charlotte needs her children taken from her, Samantha does what she does best while making hopelessly mediocre puns (“Lawrence of my labia!”), and Miranda, thank goodness, is the sole voice of reason, so at least the film has a quarter of its characters holding the torch for female independence.  Unfortunately, Miranda is no one’s favorite character, so it’s a moot point.

The freedom, the wealth, the privilege, the empowerment…. these things all resemble a drunken nightmare from F. Scott Fitzgerald more than anything else, where sophistication means buying nuggets of experience, sights and spectacle that can be gossiped about at a red carpet event.      

In a moment of great irony, unbeknownst to anyone involved in the film, the girls sing “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar”.  Make no mistake, no one is roaring at this film.  Instead, there is whining, pouting, credit cards, and designer labels.  I truly hope that, in the real world, the ideals of empowerment have not become so glitteringly superficial.

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