Monday 31 May 2010

"Sex and the City 2": a deeper penetration

[This review is a longer version of that published in The Scotsman on May 28, 2010, available here:]

And yea, their contractual wrangles and personality clashes having been resolveth, the Four Horsewomen of the Apocalypse did ride again. With the exception of one xenophobia-enabling fiesta in Mexico, 2008's first SATC feature confined its extended-hen-party ghastliness to domestic soil. This sequel embarks in a form of Sex tourism, eventually dispatching the girls and their Louis Vuitton cases to Abu Dhabi, where you wouldn't be surprised if their sniggering permissiveness (here's Samantha, sucking suggestively on a hookah pipe!) and karaoke renditions of "I Am Woman" led to calls for a jihad on certain fashion houses, or thoughts Sharia law might just have got some things right after all.

The running time, alas, remains almost exactly the same. Around half an hour of Sex and the City 2 is devoted to needless close-ups of watches and stiletto heels, as though the film were determined to replicate for its target audience the experience of flicking through a catalogue filled with items they'll never be able to afford. Writer-director Michael Patrick King makes one concession to any blokes obliged to tag along at this stage: the presence of a persistently braless Alice Eve - a promising TV and theatre actress in the UK, an itinerant pair of breasts (cf. last year's Crossing Over) in the States - as Charlotte's cartwheel-turning, insecurity-fostering Irish nanny.

Elsewhere, seguing from heavenly civil-partnership rites - cameos from Liza Minnelli and Garland impersonator Mario Cantone gilding an already altogether fabulous lily - to Carrie and Charlotte's domestic hells confirms this as a franchise that's gay- and fabric-friendly, yet deeply uncomfortable around anything conventionally straight. In the Carrie-verse, heterosexual sex has grown turgid and hard work. The thrusting of Samantha's latest stud ("I lay concrete," he growls; "That sounds promising," she coos; and we wonder how, exactly? Is Samantha's vagina so like a cement mixer, or one of those pelican's beaks they used for the purpose on The Flintstones?) is intercut with shots of a dog humping a pillow and the sound of Charlotte's baby screaming blue murder - hardly a context of erotic bliss.

It's from this backdrop, however, that a potential saviour emerges: Chris Noth's dependable and debonair Mr. Big, practically a nobody in the first film, whose sudden resistance to Carrie's superficial lifestyle appears not merely sane, but worthy of a whole new White Rose Movement. Not that King cares to recognise this. It's a sure sign a film's value system is all out of whack when Big can be vilified for daring to buy a modest flatscreen TV (SATC2's one essential purchase) in order that he and his lover can snuggle up in bed and watch old movies together. "A piece of jewellery would have been nice," is Carrie's reasoning, to which the entire multiplex - male/female, gay and straight - exclaims as one: you bitch.

It's only upon reflection you realise what King is doing in going after the man of Carrie's dreams: turning him into an analogue for all those supposedly spoilsport boyfriends and husbands who'd rather stay at home with their feet up on the couch than jump in the back of a pink limo and head down the Odeon. Once more, with its revenue streams coming under renewed attack, we find Hollywood attempting to make television the enemy - which seems doubly peculiar in a film so rooted in televisual discourse. As shrill, culture-trashing paeans to globalisation go, Carrie 2 proves marginally less enervating than its predecessor, but widescreen has killed any real or sustainable intimacy between these characters. Given the prevailing crassness, the scenes of sisterly bonding ring predominantly false, and Ms. Bradshaw herself seems more self-involved than ever beneath her expensively ludicrous rags.

There remains one glimmer of hope. At an after-party to which Carrie has dragged her man, we observe Big engaged in conversation with a glowing Penelope Cruz, and I'd like to believe that, while Carrie was off fretting boringly about her exes in the UAE, Big was offering Ms. Cruz an access-all-areas tour of his erstwhile girlfriend's walk-in wardrobe space. Otherwise, we finish back where this franchise started, with some light cross-promotion for the Time-Warner back catalogue: Carrie hailing a cab in Abu Dhabi by channeling Claudette Colbert's It Happened One Night thigh-flashing, in order to snuggle up before Cary Grant on Big's newly installed flatscreen. (See, told you it was worth it.) If Sex and the City 2 fails to satisfy its core audience, it's because it makes the one deviation those classics, or any other romantic fantasy worth its salt, would never allow: the hero ends up with the wrong dame.

Sex and the City 2 is on general release.

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