Monday, June 2, 2008

Oversexed


During the trailers for upcoming movies, the lights in the theatre suddenly snapped on. A teenage employee with a pipsqueak voice strained to be heard over the crackle of candybar wrappers and the chomp that signaled doom for a mega vat of popcorn.

''Does anyone want to buy ice cream?' she shouted. ''Buy an ice cream and get a free Sex and the City
poster!''

A woman seated halfway up the theatre spoke up. ''How many calories does it have?''

The answer to that question is also the answer to the same question when applied to the movie. Each treat has exactly 230 calories, making them both skimpy and not quite satisfying.

If the movie is a bit thin, so is Carrie Bradshaw as played by Sarah Jessica Parker. An actress would have to be thin to fit into the designer wedding gowns that form a central style montage/advertisement as Carrie poses for a fictitious issue of Vogue. The photo shoot, which has a drawn-looking Parker kitted out in fantasy dresses, is but one of a series of product plugs that occurs throughout the movie. It is not, however, the most awkward. That award goes to a clunkily written entreaty for Bag, Borrow, or Steal, a Web-based business that specializes in short-term rentals of expensive designer purses. Jennifer Hudson, playing Carrie's newly hired assistant Louise, gets the honor of delivery.

But this is Sex and the City, the series that co-starred Manolo Blahnik heels, so it should only follow that a feature movie would be an extended promotional opportunity for a wide range of boutique merchandise and human heels to boot. And so it is, and it is also not unexpectedly a personal Via Cruces for Carrie.

While the much-loved HBO series portrayed Carrie and her gang of three as emotionally exposed, the movie indicates that with age comes martyrdom. Both Carrie and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) behave childishly when confronted with what they have concluded are betrayals of romantic or friendly fidelities; Carrie tosses a bouquet in quite a different manner than the traditional and sulks--here to Parker's credit--most unprettily. Parker's reflection in a bathroom mirror is a visual highpoint of a movie that mostly has her photographed in soft focus, as if to say that while age cannot truly be erased, it can be convincingly smudged.

The movie makes it easy to forget that the series was once lauded for its clever, quip-filled writing. Now, the quips seem almost like a stale vaudeville; one waits for a ba-dump after the deflated joke. What was cute on TV--Charlotte's mincing walk, for one thing--is overplayed for laughs.

By the time Jennifer Hudson's character is introduced, it feels as if the movie should be winding down, except it isn't. The arrival of Louise signals a second chapter in Carrie's evolution and the movie must spin that thread to its predictable conclusion, an hour or so down the road.

Why is the writing so bad when it used to be so good? The difference may be that of crammed exposure versus a once-a-week half hour, or it could be that in the four years since the show's final episode we've moved on, although it is hard to say to what. It's almost as if the writers only operate in reverse. Cliché after cliché rolls by, eliciting the random laugh, most often from male members of the audience who one might presume have not suffered from overexposed glibness. The writing is poor enough that you start feeling sorrier for it than you do for Carrie, who just can't seem to pen herself a more mature emotional script. And neither she nor Miranda is given the chance to color their torment in anything other than the deepest of hues. The world of Sex and the City is colorful only insofar as the clothing is concerned; emotionally and philosophically it's all black and white. Watch while a believably impassioned Steve Brady is repeatedly stared down by cold-fish Miranda, whom you end up wanting to bitchslap. The film would have you believe that honesty should sometimes be punished (for extended periods of time), especially when it comes to men behaving as men are occasionally known to behave.

Tears made more frequent appearances than laughs. I sat next to a thirtyish woman who squirmed in her seat before the movie began and then started to sniffle at Big's big question; by the time Carrie tossed her bouquet this sniffling had turned to bawling and then to outrage.

The inevitably of the movie's ending ensures that there can only be gentle shockers, along the lines of mild static electricity. If you have ever wanted to see Cynthia Nixon full-frontally naked and in sweaty heterosexual flagrante, now is your chance.

The action takes place over the course of a year, which means that Samantha (Kim Cattrall), now living in Malibu, gets to mark the passage of time by repeatedly popping in for a surprise visit. She's as predictable as snow in December and dead leaves in October, and is another example of the clumsiness of the script.

Manhattan, once along with the Blahniks a major featured player, has become merely a representational set. A couple of tired saws about area codes and rising real estate prices seem more universal (at the time of filming) than they do indigenous to the city that once could be defined by its exclusivity.

In hindsight, the movie reveals how sparse the series' storylines really were. They were spare vignettes with voiceover, and they resolved neatly or maybe not so neatly but at least sufficiently enough to prove that resolution is both acceptance and compromise and needn't come tied in a pretty pink bow. The movie misses the mark in having to turn itself into a Valentine for the show; for once, everything falls into place.

Also of note is the acting, that of Kristin Davis in particular. Davis, who proved herself an excellent light comedienne on the series, is given the filmic equivalent of a pratfall. Davis struggles between the banana peel and subtlety; the writing for her character is some of the worst. Cattrall and Parker are hampered by cliché; only Nixon gets a truly sublime moment. Nixon's face as she withholds the rage of hurt is the only moment of the film that reads as topnotch acting; while Parker's puffy eyelids are visual signals of rote malcontent, Nixon's opaque eyes look like a Greek tragedy: milkily blinded by deception.

Because it was impossible to write the SATC movie as a tabula rasa, it cannot help but be a survey of the series, which causes the movie to become more notational than it is developmental. It wasn't as if anyone expected Carrie to become an embedded journalist in Iraq or to win a Pulitzer, but four years after the series ended she is still a character who is mostly aware of her own gracileness and how it might best be displayed in now-outdated fashions.

12 comments:

selinaoolala said...

your points are all so true, i was especially annoyed by the louise/designer bag story line which was cringe-worthy, but i throughly enjoyed it once adjusting from fuzzy videos to big screen and i don't think every film can be perfection, after all the target audience was wannabe glamourous women. i did however notice all the girls my age and younger, and the series started when i was like nine years old or something! glad you're back!

lady coveted said...

it's really good to see you back, love!

i missed your posts!

hmm... i think when it comes to this movie, i wouldn't really expect anything different. it's probably why i'm so on the fence to seeing the movie.

Suzanna Mars said...

Thanks, LC!

The movie is worth seeing, if only to witness the reaction of the crowd. Therefore, it is best to go sooner rather than later, while it is still nearly impossible to find a seat. If you've ever felt phobic about climbing through a dimmed theatre, asking person after person if a seat is taken, this may cure the disease.

Suzanna Mars said...

S., while there is a precedent for the gown montage (and even the fashion show; take a look at 1939's The Women), I felt as if I were being hit over the head by a Vuitton bag (and ultimately a Vuitton box).

Sm. said...

I'm so glad you're back!

I have yet to see the movie (I know! I know!), but have read most of the reviews and seen the clips. I'm nervous about how it may colour how much I enjoyed the series, but TBW and I will get to it one of these weekends, if only to see all the clothes.

WendyB said...

I agree with a lot that you said but I don't think the writing of the movie is a belated reflection on the writing of the show. I thought the movie's script didn't live up to the old writing at all; maybe Michael Patrick King has lost his touch. I agree on that Bag Borrow or Steal line. Cringe-worthy.

K.Line said...

Great to see your posting again. I've missed you S! Of course, I agree with many of your points (though I really quite enjoyed the film for the outfits and the nostalgia). The Bag, Borrow, Steal product placement was particularly hideous.

susie_bubble said...

I haven't seen it yet, and I've been avoidng all reviews but i had to read your return post and I know in my heart that you have gotten it spot on without me even seeing it... I will still see it on obligation to friends but I will carry your review with me in my head

Becky said...

How lovely to have you back! I just posted my review and I saved reading your post until I had finished. It's astounding how much we agree (even though I think you're underrating SJP) even on little points.

I do so love a good gown montage. The trailer for the updated "The Women" filled me with undiluted dread however...

Becky.

Suzanna Mars said...

Becky, I form my comments based on my own long and frequently unrewarding struggle with the businesses of acting and writing; I don't think I was as tough on SJP as you inferred from reading my post. That aside, as a former Method-schooled actress (15 years) it was Nixon's ability to externalize the internal by very subtle means that caught my attention.

Kira Fashion said...

i will watch this weekend!
it will be fun!

a kiss,
see you,
check it out my new post!

enc said...

I wonder if there was any way we'd all be "satisfied" with the final product. I admit to having had a lot of expectations, and few of them were met. The one major one I had—that Mr.Big would get cold feet—was the one I sort of didn't want to be met. It was, though, and I was able to identify with Carrie's heartbreak. But not much else.

I did, however, love the white mousseline jacket she wore for her last visit to the penthouse. I didn't expect that!