Before we begin, a reminder that “Laughs for Lark” is tonight at The Linda (WAMC Recording Studio). Tickets are sold at the door for $15; click for more info.

The promotional imagery for "Sex and the City 2" betrays the true brilliance of the film as a statement on unabashed American excess and poor judgement misconstrued by other nations as imperialism. That or it's just so bad I went insane and found an excuse to praise it.

The film “Sex and the City 2” opens with the overplayed “Empire State of Mind,” then suddenly and without warning jumps into a montage sequence revealing the origins of the relationships between the four principal characters. After a speed-reading of their first two decades of friendship that functions as a clumsy excuse for visual puns involving 80s fashion trends, the four girls enter a store to purchase gifts for a wedding.

Who’s getting married? They tease Samantha, but in fact it’s two homosexual characters that, until this very moment, had been established as despising each other with every fiber of their being.

The gay marriage is irrelevant to the remainder of the movie. It isn’t simply forgotten as soon as it occurs, it’s avoided to the point of pretending it never happened. However, it establishes two important themes that are crucial to understanding this film.

One is that it doesn’t make any sense. But before I could even have that reaction, one of the characters – Charlotte – has it for me. They are discussing the wedding, and she interrupts to point out incredulously that this event isn’t just unlikely, it’s entirely illogical. She all but comes short of saying “wait, this movie is coming to a screeching halt so I, the actress portraying this character, can come to grips with this completely nonsensical development.”

The other characters re-assure Charlotte. It’s happening, they explain, because it’s happening. And that is all the explanation that’s needed. There are at least two other instances in the first act alone where characters quite literally point out the fact that what we are seeing does not make any sense, and in every instance they – and the audience – are told that the only explanation is that it’s happening and that there is no explanation.

Well, glad we got that out of the way.

The second integral component of the film conveyed by the nonsensical gay wedding is the entrance of none other than Liza Minelli. Liza appears to wed the two gentlemen and everyone expresses shock at her presence. When one of the ladies asks how or why Liza would ever agree to do such a thing, Miranda explains that there were so many homosexual men and elements of gay culture present at the wedding that she just manifested herself magically.

Liza’s presence, and the quip explaining it, are crucial to understanding this film.  “Sex and the City 2,” like Liza’s presence, is not an event that was planned or written. Rather, it manifested itself through the combined wills of a demographic hungry to be targeted, Dolce & Gabana, the United Arab Emirates, and the ghost of the American economy.

Carrie, like America, was once just an innocent girl trying to be someone who she wasn't.

It is that last concept that contains the strongest influence on the film: a tale of an out of touch woman proud of her inability to age gracefully draped in clothes that she insists are high fashion but which often make her look completely ridiculous. More importantly, Carrie (the American economy) finds herself in an arrangement (her marriage to Big) that she insists she’s ready for, but goes out of her way to continually and inexplicably sabotage.

If one were to approach this as a real film that was attempting to have its characters commit actions that make logical sense with something resembling a motivation, you’d be perplexed. Which is why you have to see “Sex and the City 2” for what it is: an unapologetic metaphor for America and all its excesses.

Like America, the four girls find themselves in the exact roles they always dreamed about; the very American dreams of marriage, home ownership, successful careers, and children. One by one they unravel because the characters got what they wanted, but weren’t prepared for the consequences. Miranda receives the demanding career in a cut-throat law firm, but now that firm has turned against her and no longer respects or desires her input. Charlotte has the two children she always wanted, but now they are driving her literally to tears with their demands. Samantha continues to have tons of sex, but must ingest literally fistfuls of pill supplements and hormones in order to keep her menopause at bay.

The principal character, Carrie, is the most obviously American metaphor. She finally has her marriage to Big but is dismayed that he is not romancing her twenty-four hours a day like she had imagined. She wanted him to be full-time what he was to her part-time, not realizing that what she saw was exactly what he was, and that the rest of the time he just did things like sleep and watch television.

The girls have everything they ever wanted, but only after they spent decades deluding themselves and romanticizing their goals. Meanwhile, the United States saw a real estate bubble burst that sent us into a tailspin due to our reliance on a credit-based system that didn’t produce anything of substance, as our manufacturing sector was replaced with digits pushed around computer monitors while we all recklessly lived beyond our means oblivious to the consequences. The girls, too, spent the better part of twenty-four years chasing the dragon, then upon catching it came to the shocking realization that they weren’t prepared for what would happen once they’d captured the mythical beast of their wants and desires. We see these through each of the four principal characters reaching their emotional, mental, professional, and marital breaking points.

Operation Enduring Freedom? More like Operation Enduring FASHION!

Then, like America, they go to the Mid East under a flimsy pretense to distract themselves and everyone watching from the troubles back home.

Look out, Abu Dhabi. They’re coming to bring their sexual freedom and liberate your women politically, socially, and fashionably. The United States of Samantha, Charlotte, Miranda and Carrie.

It all goes so well at first. The girls get there and accomplish everything they set out to do and in quick order. They cannot believe their luck. Then, suddenly and without warning, the place turns on them. Well, suddenly and without warning to all but Charlotte, who is the lone voice of reason throughout their trip and this film. She cries, begs, and pleads with Carrie and Samantha not to engage in behaviors that could respectively sabotage a marriage and get them into legal trouble. Her appeals to their better angels are not only ignored but openly mocked and ridiculed. So Charlotte simply turns away from the disaster and urgently tries to touch base with home in order to address the situation there. Unfortunately, she gets no response and expresses frustration that all of her attempts to work with them while also keeping them informed of her plight in the Mid East are going unheard because they’re distracted by needy children and an Irish nanny’s gigantic bra-less knockers.

I could provide further examples, but that would simply spoil the film. And I don’t want to do that to you. I just want you to realize that this isn’t just another trite, poorly executed film that seemingly betrays its foundations in order to cash in on the promise of big box office returns. This clumsy farce is not simply a badly written train wreck of a film that includes plot turns and character developments so completely nonsensical that the characters cannot help but literally ask not only what is happening but why, followed by a completely unsatisfactory non-explanation. Nor is this a film that was so hastily made that actor John Corbett (“Aidan”) completely flubs a line and yet it still somehow manages to make it into the final cut (whoops).

No. This film is a metaphor for America. Nay, it IS America. It epitomizes, chastises, celebrates, castrates, falsely postulates, and shamelessly espouses the very things that gives the rest of the world the wrong impression of what we’re all about. But it does it so earnestly and with such a disarming lack of shame that after awhile you just throw your hands up and go “oh, America, I suppose you’ve always been this way and you’re never going to change, are you?”

Nope. Which his why it’s okay that “Sex and the City 2” is such a terrible film and an incredible waste of all of the criminally underutilized talent that appears on the screen. Because so is America. We could be so much better, and we could do so many great things with the resources at our disposal. But who gives a hoot? There’s a shoe stand on the streets of Abu Dhabi, and that Cosmo isn’t going to drink itself.

Let freedom ring.


23 Responses to The United States of Samantha, Charlotte, Miranda and Carrie: “Sex and the City 2″ Review

  1. I haven’t seen the movie, and I really have no desire to (sorry to my female SATC die-hards). What you write here, Kevin, really makes me wonder if the writers intentionally developed the movie as a reminder of the excess of America, or if they simply had nothing better to write about. I think that’s why I don’t go to movies anymore, because they’re all remakes of movies I’ve already seen, or ideas that are tired and old, and do not need resurrection.

  2. Trish says:

    Funny, when I was a teenager and mentioned a new movie to my parents, and they were always mystifyingly unimpressed with it? I now understand – there is nothing new under the sun, and every new movie (at least from the major studios) seems like something that’s already been done.

    I’m turning into my parents. Thanks, movie-making industry!

    • Trish (#2) – There is something to that. To an extent, Hollywood has always targeted teenagers and early twenty-somethings, as they’re the demographic that turns out in droves for a film. It does seem, though, that in the past decade the number of mainstream films targeted towards adults has drastically decreased.

  3. Sue says:

    I hadn’t really thought of the movie as a metaphor for the US or the failing economy, but I have to say – it fits. As does the train wreck reference (and this is coming from a fan).

    For anyone who is not a fan – please don’t judge the franchise soley on this effort. There really is a worth-while message, to which the series and first movie did justice. This movie was just….not good. *sigh*

    • Sue (#3) – I was familiar with the series through its first few seasons. Although the voice-over narration drove me nuts at times (as it does in any series or film – it’s really lazy writing), it was actually a very cerebral study of female sexuality and societal expectations at the cusp of the 21st Century. It wasn’t just a “oh girls, look at shoes” show by any stretch of the imagination, even though it has been painted as such by the media.

      With this post, I wanted to focus on the concept of this film as a metaphor for American excess (whether intentional or not) and stick with a more satirical tone. But with this film there is a very real betrayal of what the franchise was at its peak. None of the better qualities that made “Sex and the City” a worthewhile television series is present in this installment of the film franchise.

      Which is why I find it confusing that so many people can write off the severe drop in quality by saying “it’s just fun.” Although I don’t think it’s quite at that level, it would be like them doing a film installment of “The Wire” and turning it into a buddy cop film. People would be outraged, and yet for some reason it’s okay for this franchise to be completely dumbed down and focus on all of the completely tertiary aspects of fashion from the original series.

  4. Lola says:

    So well said, Kevin. Such a disappointment, on so many levels. I’ll stick to reminiscing with my DVDs of the series.

  5. Ellie says:

    I was not going to go to this movie. For me, the series ended with the first movie, which I thought tied up things very nicely for all of the characters. You had the wedding, the childbirth, the break up, the scene on the Brooklyn Bridge. It was all very good. To continue the store, for me, seemed excessive.

    The point of SATC was that there were these four great strong women who represented the different aspects of real women. They all had their trials, their flaws and their friendship (I won’t use sisterhood). It was a great act of feminism that they each got a happy ending. Most strong women don’t. They’re told to settle, give up, or compromise for the sake of fitting in. None of the women in SATC compromised, gave up or ever thought of settling. And that’s why it was a brilliant ending.

    SATC2 looks like an excuse to get the girls together again and sell shoes. Which could have been done if they, let’s say, did a one night comedy event or something.

  6. Tony Barbaro says:

    I’m gonna get a bunch of my hunting buddies together and go see this…ya know to get in touch with our inner fashionistas.ok, maybe not…..

  7. Rob Madeo says:

    What’s happened to Hollywood?

    This would have been much cooler if Carrie had been kidnapped by terrorists and the other gals had to rescue her. Instead of using guns and grenades, they could have relied on their feminine charms to trick the bad guys!

    OK, maybe they could shoot one or two terrorists.

  8. Lisa says:

    I must have seen a different movie than everyone here. Saw it and loved it. Will buy the movie when it’s on DVD.

  9. Tony Barbaro says:

    Rob:maybe SATC III…..I can see the movie lines now..”RELEASE THE CLEAVIGE”……The terrorists are helpless against true American-Metapausal Cougars….

  10. Jay Bobbin says:

    As mentioned elsewhere earlier, Kevin, I’m a firm believer — always have been, always will be — in anyone having the right to like or not like whatever he/she does or doesn’t.

    That said, I’d like to make a point about the apparent consternation over the “It’s just fun” reaction of some to this film. By no means is this the movie that most “Sex and the City” devotees wish it was — I can speak to that for myself — but a certain measure of residual good will can be directed toward a franchise that has meant so much to so many for so long. Even if it makes a misstep.

    For me, it’s the same thing with James Bond. I was disappointed to have to try so hard to like “Quantum of Solace,” but I ultimately was willing to cut it some slack, since the 007 series has been such a big deal to me ever since I started going to the movies.

    I suspect it’s the same for a reasonable percentage of the “Sex and the City” faithful with “Sex and the City 2.” You have so much anticipation for it, and so much affection for what the whole franchise has provided, you hope it justifies that.

    And even if it doesn’t, we’ll still always have Carrie.

  11. Jay (#13) – Good point and well put.

    I think much of that, though, can be due to the tone of the franchise as a more female-oriented venture.

    Honestly, I think it’s a fascinating look at what differences can mean for the respective genders of a franchise. Despite the fact that males can also enjoy it there’s no denying it’s a franchise for women. As such, its fanbase is far more forgiving, as you pointed out with the good will it has earned. You would never hear a male fan of a male-oriented series – whether it’s sci-fi, fantasy, comic book franchise, etcetera – talk of forgiving a movie of its spectacular shortcomings due to the good will the franchise has bestowed on it.

    I gave the fictional example of “The Wire” being adapted into a buddy cop film, but a real example would be the second “Star Wars” trilogy that was produced, which still to this day elicit some very negative emotions and reactions from fans of the franchise, which comes because of – not in spite of – all the good will that was created with previous installments of the franchise, up to and including all of the peripheral installments in books and comics.

    That said, I need to point out (and sort of allude to at the end of the post) that as terrible as I thought it was as an example of film, I still had a lot of fun tearing it apart. So, in the end, it achieved its purpose. It’s every bit the cultural event the first film was, which is why I watched it. Not because I simply wanted to write something negative, but because I enjoy writing about society and culture, and I feel this in a very real way is a part of it.

    This is also the same reason why I bought a ticket to “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” despite the fact that I knew it was going to be a noisy, racist abomination of a film. I almost owe it to myself to see things that are so important to people and yet so terrible, because as a writer, it turns me on (not sexually).

  12. Jay Bobbin says:

    Fair enough, Kevin.

    Though I’m compelled to reiterate, I felt I was pretty forgiving of “Quantum of Solace,” being a male fan of a male-oriented series.

    Nevertheless, your point and the well-expressed reasons behind it are taken.

  13. Sue says:

    The “it’s just fun” crowd is probably broken down into two groups:

    The group already mentioned who just love SATC so much that they want to cut the movie some slack.

    The group who never looked at SATC as being anything more than fun. As long as the movie had enough shoes, funny hats and oneliners, they were going to be happy anyway.

    As for me, when I left the theater I was disappointed, embarrassed and upset. Disappointed because I expected better of the movie and embarrassed because I saw it with someone who’d never seen the show or the first movie, and whose opinion I respect. Then I thought, how awful that there are people who will judge the whole franchise on this movie!

    I’d never ruin anyone’s good time, so if fans still want to get together with their girlfriends, get dressed up, have some cocktails and catch the movie, I wouldn’t discourage them. That’s what the movie is supposed to be about.

    But is there any excuse for what this movie did to the franchise? No. It’s a slap in the face to the majority of its fans. They took away the message of friendship, hope and strength and replaced it with whiny, oversexed women with poor taste. So, either that’s what they always thought of their fans, or they figured we wouldn’t notice.

  14. Sue – Yeah, what these characters became are almost unrecognizable from their original incarnations in the series. Well, it might be more apt to say what these characters were made into as opposed to became, since it’s not so much characters changing over time as it is wild departures.

    Jay – Fair enough. I still haven’t seen “Quantum” but knew enough people bummed out about it that I’ve simply thrown it on my Netflix queue and mostly forgotten about it. In fairness, though, we’ve already had our fair share of bad Bond installments over the years. It’s a wildly uneven franchise (particularly in the Roger Moore years), so it’s not as if there was any sense of consistency in terms of quality that we grew attached to.

  15. Rob Madeo says:

    “A certain measure of residual good will can be directed toward a franchise that has meant so much to so many for so long. Even if it makes a misstep.”

    I disagree. If it’s a terrible movie, is it really the role of the critic to qualify his opinion by capping it off with a statement like, “But if you’re a fan of Sex and the City, you’ll enjoy it.”

    I’ve heard that approach many times, and every time it’s a cop out.

  16. Jay Bobbin says:

    Thanks for the opinion, #18.

    Not a cop out whatsoever in my view, being one who realizes that what’s “terrible” to one person still can have benefit for someone else. And also being one who’s experienced it for myself, numerous times.

  17. Rob Madeo says:

    That’s fine, Jay (and I will address you as “Jay”, not “#19″), but I turn to movie critics for an assessment of the work, not a summary of who will enjoy it. On the other hand, it’s true that many movie critics get carried away with their opinion and leave the consumer behind.

  18. M says:

    Just saw the movie and wanted to comment. First though, what was “Aidan’s” flubbed line? So curious now–googled it and couldn’t find.

    I was disappointed in the movie’s complete disregard to the customs of Abu Dhabi. Yes, maybe they are different customs but it seemed arrogant of the characters’ to mock their customs. Thoughts?

  19. M – I forget the exact line. It occurred when they first ran into each other in Abu Dhabi. He starts saying something about a cactus, flubs the line, recovers half-heartedly then moves on to the next line. The actor was decent enough to play it off as the character’s disbelief and nerves overtaking him, but the timing of it and his style of delivery elsewhere say otherwise.

  20. Debbie says:

    This movie veered right off course when it relocated to Abu Dhabi. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, don’t mock their customs or you’re asking for trouble. Same goes for Abu Dhabi.

    The first SATC was great, but the sequil, as so often happens, let down the original concept.

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