Saturday, June 7, 2008

Sex and the City ***1/2

Director: Michael Patrick King
Cast: Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis
Chris Noth, Jason Lewis, David Eigenberg, Evan Handler, Lynn Cohen
Willie Garson, Mario Cantone, Candice Bergen, Jennifer Hudson

Four years after the groundbreaking HBO series went off the air, fans the world over couldn't help but wonder: what will happen between Carrie (Parker) and Mr. Big (Noth)? Will Samantha (Cattrall) leave her old ways and settle with rising young star Jerrod Smith (Lewis)? Will Miranda (Nixon) achieve marital bliss with Steve (Eigenberg)? and will Charlotte (Davis) finally be able to have a baby with her husband Harry (Handler)?
Almost half a decade has gone by and now all those questions are answered in a movie event that was destined to be more event than movie, but ends up pulling the rug from under our feet.
(For those who have never seen the show and obviously don't have those questions in mind, the opening sequence features a montage that sets the mood, along with an infectious update of the theme song provided by, of all people, Fergie).
After this we're thrown right back into the story and much to our surprise, and it has to be said pleasure, we realize that things haven't really changed that much.
A still unmarried Carrie Bradshaw is finally planning a big wedding with Mr. Big, which brings back commitment issues between both of them. Samantha now living and working in Los Angeles as Smith's agent is beginning to lose her own sense of self. Miranda is having trust issues with Steve.
And Charlotte, who has adopted a girl (the lovely Alexandra Fong) is still trying to have a baby of her own.
While it's true that TV to film conversion should feel bigger, not only in the obvious sense of screen dimension but in plot development (after all it's not the same to keep your attention during half hour episodes than in the film's two hour and twenty two minutes running time with no TiVo or bathroom breaks) it's refreshing to see that, brilliant writer/director, King put his characters' priorities before anything else and instead of coming up with some unexpected twist to push the cinematical, simply goes with the flow.
Just because the characters are older (and they look it!) doesn't mean that they're wiser which is why to some the film might seem like an extension of an old joke, but to others is merely the obvious progression.
When was the last time, after Woody Allen, that someone dared to revisit the same themes over and over without feeling stale and redundant? It's rare to see a filmmaker so humbly express his insecurities on the screen and reveal that just because he got to make a movie about something doesn't mean he's got all the answers to his questions.
Which is why when Carrie and Big get in their umpteenth relationship crisis (after all it's been a whole decade of trouble for them) we don't feel annoyed, instead turning into an introspective soul search mood that challenges our preconceptions about love.
Those looking for a laugh out loud experience will be mildly disappointed, because even though the movie is hilarious, the jokes never come at expense of what's going on with the plot. This obviously doesn't mean that the film achieves "Closer" levels of darkness, because the one thing these four New Yorkers never lose is unabashed hope.
With the actors having pretty much defined who their characters are (and never reducing them to caricatures), it's still a pleasant surprise to see Kristin Davis' doe eyed Charlotte practically steal the movie.
Cattrall, always the sex bomb, has grown into a more mature actress who has absolutely no fear of aging, her Samantha Jones, who sometimes screamed of nympho, is perhaps the one character who never loses perspective of who she is;even though her choices may seem selfish, Cattrall's confidence assures you she will be alright and that she's ready to fight when things go wrong.
Nixon avoids giving in to complete paranoid, bitter meltdown and explores the sweeter side of Miranda, the one that forces her to examine past the logical aspects in the situations.
And Parker, more beautiful than ever with a post punk-ish Audrey Hepburn look, once again makes your heart stop at the right moments.
Her Carrie has become an icon in New York and like everything iconic she is object of questioning. Luckily for us most of this comes from within her and Carrie's neuroses now seem more profound than ever, especially when she examines the essence of what love ought to be.
In some of the film's best scenes Parker shines as an actress, whether it's a little gut wrenching move here or a heartbreakingly beautiful smile there, she knows how and when to hit you. Since she is the protagonist, her vivid narration puts a little Jane Austen into a Manhattan that never sinks either into a shallow fairy tale land or a destructive emotional void.
In one of the show's best episodes the women decide that they will be each other's soulmates. The film will make you feel like you're the fifth.
The chemistry between the four actresses is remarkable and some of the most joyous moments are when they're together discussing sex, shopping or indulging in fashion moments (the clothes and visual style of the movie deserve a review of their own) which is when we see them at their most natural, no longer restricted by the influence of the men in their lives, they become liberated.
Which isn't to say that this is a maneater world or some sort of feminist fascism, but rather something that embraces the differences between the sexes without underrating how they compliment each other.
The male characters may seem a bit too passive at times, but their influence has Freudian reprecussions as they're always there in some way or another.
"Sex and the City" has the sort of divine mystery that has always known what to express without really knowing how it got there.
While the supporting cast is splendid, the most welcome inclusion comes in the shape of Hudson who plays Carrie's new assistant, Louise from St. Louis, and breathes new life into their world.
When Carrie asks what brings her to New York, she answers "I came to fall in love".
By that time in the movie you would expect Carrie to fall into a cynical route and try to snap the innocent girl out of her dream, but it's our heroine herself who snaps out of hers'.
Nowadays almost everything tries to push us into a hedonist, selfcentered existence and with this rediscovery of love Michael Patrick King is able to take Big and Carrie beyond the realms of Ross and Rachel, sending them instead to the stratosphere where Romeo and Juliet reside along with Ilsa and Rick; a love that pushes boundaries, that is never easy to make happen, that hurts, that takes you to unexpected places, that defies normal thought processes, but ends up stronger because of that.
They say that sex without love is nothing and the love in this "Sex" sparkles like diamonds.


marcela said...

Awww.... Me muero de ganas por verla, y ya me habían dado comentarios negativos, pero me entusiasmaste otra vez.

woodstock said...

i promised myself i wouldn't read every review of the satc movie, especially when i saw there was an unspoken boycott to it. yours just reassured me that sex and the city isn't a guilty pleasure - there's nothing guilty about it.

i always felt the series as an inverse the emperor's clothes tale. while on the tale the nobleman and his people faked intelligence before the invisible clothes - sex and the city's clothes are real and beautiful and only the true clever people could see its humanity beyond the sex and the fashion.

i'm dying to see it now.

Michael Parsons said...

A wonderful wonderful review Jose. You hit the nail on the head. This was an unexpected pleasure of a film, and one that does nothing to diminish the power of th series.
I hope for more of them, being amongst those women was like being with old friends. Does that make me sad?

marcela said...

Estrenaron la película hasta este pasado fin de semana y sólo cuatro de mis amigos y yo estábamos este martes de mitad de precio en el cine. Me preguntaba porqué pero 2 horas y media después me pareció lógico: Jose, yo adoro esta serie, el libro me pareció entretenido, pero la película es horrorosa! Es tan forzada: destruyeron en 2 horas lo que costó 6 años desarrollar tan elegantemente. No podía creer que tenían chistes escatológicos; ese perrito de Samantha era lo peor. Estoy en shock! Me siento tan decepcionada.

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