Has there ever been a TV series more polarizing than Sex and the City? It polarized me: First it drove me crazy (like itching powder), now I’m madly in love with it. It’s hard to feel halfway about these women and their unabashed materialism, overprivilege, and self-indulgence, their overdependence on and objectification of men. But what a hoot it is to see babes, for once, doing the objectifying—and talking dirty and sleeping around and measuring their fantasies against the sobering truth of male emotional insufficiency. If the core friendship of Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte is the biggest fantasy of all—they complement one another perfectly; they’re never too competitive—it’s a moving design for living: existential haute couture.
The movie, which reunites the whole cast, even if the other actresses aren’t palsy-walsy with Kim Cattrall, has the delish/insufferable mixture about right. (It wouldn’t be SATC if it weren’t a little annoying.) Sex and the City: The Motion Picture (not the actual title) is a joyful wallow. And it’s more: In this summer of do-overs (The Incredible Hulk, a new Batman versus a new Joker), it’s what the series finale should have been. For one last time, the relationship columnist–cum (no pun intended)–anthropologist Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) tests the fairy-tale trappings of modern romance—turns them inside out, pulls at the loose threads, and wrings the tears that have saturated them into iridescent cocktails. (God, that’s terrible. I have to work on my Bradshaw-esque relationship musings.) It’s not that the writer-director, Michael Patrick King, breaks new ground; it’s that these women are in their fifth decade, and age is a more insistent subtext. The time for do-overs is almost up.
The movie opens three-plus years after the series finale, and in case you missed that (or the whole show), Carrie helpfully brings you up to date over the opening credits. Morose Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) lives in (shudder) Brooklyn with her mousy husband (David Eigenberg). Chipper Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and hubby Harry (Evan Handler) have adopted a Chinese toddler, whose presence makes it somewhat more difficult to babble openly about cunnilingus. Wilting from monogamy, Samantha (Kim Cattrall) is living on the beach in California with her actor-client-and-hunka-burnin’-love Smith (Jason Lewis)—which reduces Cattrall’s face-to-face encounters with her co-stars by about a third. Carrie, of course, has finally settled into the arms of the rich and powerful Mr. Big (Chris Noth) in happily-ever-after-land and can now afford even more designer clothes and shoes. But it’s not quite enough. They’re not formally hitched. What if he dumps her and she has to auction off her jewelry? (This comes to her at the auction of a spurned wife’s jewelry.) Maybe, she says to Big, they should tie the knot. “I wouldn’t mind being married to you,” he replies, bloodlessly. By the way: Is Chris Noth aging into Eddie Munster?
I shall not spoil what follows, but the wedding sequence (about midway through) is a heart-stopper—a mirthless farce in which cell phones and limos function as agents of the unconscious. It’s a chance to watch Parker pull out the acting stops, and she’s spectacularly good: The neediness that makes her one of our giddiest comediennes is also a kind of black hole. Parker has come in for some monstrous derision of late—and I suppose it’s understandable, given that she’s pushed on billboards as the personification of kitty-cat sultriness. But you can sense the fragility beneath the poses. She’s always the little girl dressing up, wriggling from one outfit to the next, elated for a bit but apt to wither in the face of rejection or self-doubt. There are plenty of reasons to resent Carrie’s incessant hunger for designer anything, but how can you resent Parker’s fleeting enchantment? It’s what anchors the show.
Those outfits, by the way, are lulus—designers must have fallen all over themselves to get their stuff into this movie. A woman sitting next to me only took notes on the clothes; behind me came regular gasps of pleasure and (occasionally) horror. In one of the most sublime scenes, Carrie cleans out her closet (in preparation for a move) and models her dated getups for Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha. The friends have placards: TAKE and TRASH. It brought a tear to my eye when Carrie emerged in the little tutu from the show’s credit sequence. Oh, take take take! Sex and the City will make queeny fashion enthusiasts even of those of us whose chief association with the word runway is “airplane.”
Camp, of course, is central to the appeal, especially when Cattrall is onscreen—her insouciant vulgarity is indispensable. (I don’t care what she’s like off-camera.) But the high-spirited bitchery doesn’t drown out the softer, more realistic notes. Nixon’s prickly ambivalence over her marriage (and the sacrifices it demands) makes for a bleak subplot. She’s going a little crazy—she’s the movie’s sole representative of repression—and her bitterness has consequences for Carrie. The balance between dark and light often tips to the dark—which makes Kristin Davis’s old-fashioned ditzy double-takes all the more essential. (She’s such a cutie.)
I haven’t carped about the smooth-FM music or the fact that the hetero men (Mr. Big semi-excepted) are nonentities. But Sex and the City’s nod to the nonwhite is scary. Jennifer Hudson plays Carrie’s personal assistant, and Oh my God, it’s Hattie McDaniel for the new millennium: Instead of cleaning Carrie’s house, she cleans up her computer files (although she does help declutter the apartment, too). She admires her mistress in those beautiful outfits. And check out that smile when you give her a Louis Vuitton handbag! Please, Sex and the City, do not pretend you exist in the real multiracial world. White will always be your new black.