Thursday, July 1, 2010

Sex and the City 2 ***

Director: Michael Patrick King
Cast: Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon
Chris Noth, David Eigenberg, Evan Handler, Willie Garson
Mario Cantone, Max Ryan, Lynn Cohen, Jason Lewis
Alice Eve, Noah Mills, Raza Jaffrey, John Corbett

"Beyond here there be fashion" should warn a sign at the beginning of Sex and the City 2; like the ancient maps warning sailors about the perils involving dragons, it seems that almost every "traditional" heterosexual man fears fashion with the same irrational angst of their ancestors.
Once they made it through the labyrinth of Dior, Vuitton and Manolos, they would be surprised to find a sensitive film that taps on the fears, anxieties and hopes of the women they love.
Because regardless of the excess, apparent frivolity and more slapstick infused nature of this installment, Sex is still about the magical friendship of its four leads.
This time around Carrie (Parker) is going into the terrible twos with her husband Mr. Big (Noth). He wants to sit on the couch and watch TV, she's desperate for nights out on the town and escaping the boring married couple curse.
Samantha (Cattrall) is trying to go through menopause with as much dignity as she can muster while trying to see if she's still got it (she seduces stud Noah Mills using her amazing one liners).
Miranda (Nixon) comes to realize that work might just not be all there is to life while Charlotte (Davis) begins to sink under the pressures of motherhood.
Just as the women are about to be trampled under the harshness of reality, an opportunity comes up for them to escape when Samantha invites them to come with her to Abu Dhabi, all expenses paid.
Once in the Middle East we follow their adventures which rage from enigmatic trips to little markets, camel rides, karaoke singing, running into old flames (Corbett's Aidan for Carrie this time) and also the realization that rules and traditions are practically impossible to understand looking from the outside in.
To enjoy this movie fully one must understand that it's not meant to be taken as a factual "this is how things are" deal. Sex and the City 2 is a delightful throwback to the films audiences flocked to during the Great Depression and WWII.
Escapist fare overflowing glamour, sparkle and the kind of excess people only could look up to. In the style of Greta Garbo, the women are dressed head to toe in exquisite clothes (courtesy of genius costume designer Patricia Field).
Like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in Road to Morocco they take on the exotic locale with the selfish anxiety Americans tend to show in foreign places.
And just like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz they're also completely conscious that this is a land of dreams that soon will prove it has its dark sides as well. It's no coincidence that Carrie utters delighted "Toto I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore" the minute they walk into the luxurious Middle Eastern hotel.
Just like no one chided Dorothy for taking advantage of what she could in Oz, these women deal with the place in the only way they know how. In order to fulfill the roles they created in the original TV series and first movie, sometimes the filmmakers recur to efficient techniques that help encompass who these characters are using the smallest details.
Therefore we have Samantha regain her mojo through a Shisha, Charlotte give in to her insecurities by becoming attached to her iPhone and Miranda manifest her inner control freak through schedules and the strategic use of Arabic words.
Anyone who's followed these women for a long time will notice that they do change in vacation, "you're fun in Abu Dhabi" says one of them with gleeful surprise.
But at their core they remain the same women we've known for ages, in this case it's just the structure that changes.
Michael Patrick King cleverly turns his entire film into a 1930's spectacle, in a way Sex and the City 2 follows the course of the cinema made during those years.
The movie begins with the delightful excess of a Busby Berkeley musical. There's a wedding at the beginning with such campy charm and outlandish attention to detail that you can't help but fall for its innocent belief in romance a la Top Hat.
After this, the film enters into the shaky terrain of Leo McCarey and Frank Capra romantic comedies, you know films like It Happened One Night where romance actually dealt with emotions while being outrageously entertaining. It's no wonder that some of the women's further hijinx involve moments straight out of slapstick classics.
Then when the film explores the nature of fantastic travel (like in the mentioned Morocco and Oz) it does so with a selfconscious, almost forced sense of escapism. Without disregarding reality the women know that despite their privileged status they want to get away from "reality".
Therefore Samantha has no trouble expressing how because of the bad economy they "need to go somewhere rich".
To expect these women to ignore their wealth and the opportunity they have to indulge themselves in luxury would be to condemn reality, for isn't this exactly what the upper classes have done throughout history?
It's fortunate for the Sex girls that now they're less Marie Antoinette and fit more with the celebrity worship our generation has come to obsess with, if not this movie could be perceived by some as being a tacky exercise in excess.
Fortunately by movie's end, King concentrates a bit more on the melancholic feeling brought by more serious filmic works like those of Preston Sturges and William Wyler, which means that when the credits roll, the women, especially Carrie, have gone from Arabic princesses to bruised women learning what they really want out of life.
King's intentions don't always work and some of his most clever ideas are drowned in execution (the whole analogy of the women learning about tradition and rules by going to a different cultural landscape is fascinating, the execution lacks a bit more politics) yet for all its flaws in the end Sex and the City 2 can't help but take aim at our hearts by adequately reminding us that when all is said and done there is no place like home.


woodstock said...

it is very interesting that they left home to tap to the dark side of the lives they live. it is by leaving our lovely comfort zones that we get to know more of ourselves. nathaniel, for instance, resented them leaving the "5th girl", THE CITY, in his review; but well he is american AND a new yorker, so no matter how open-minded they are there's always some kind of patriotism sneaking into them. you know what i mean... and probably the same happened with the other americans who felt offended by the 4 girls behaviour in abu dhabi. plus, if the cultural analogy was a little better exectuted [especially towards the end] it could get more effect to the "straight" thinkers everywhere [and i'm not just talking about non-gayness].

or not! like u said, these people fear fashion so much they bought the tickets intending to hate the movie. and the critics are much worse considering they got in for free [where's the gratitude u em-effers!! hahahaha].

suddenly everybody became marxists dissing the 4 devils of capitalism in hot-amazingly-dressed-women disguise; they all became comprehensive and deeply intelligent americans acknowledging with fierce criticism what their fellow citizens do in foreign countries; etc etc.

the [REAL] misoginy in their speeches was so moronic and cynical that only silly people would believe. but thank god nobody pays much attention to critics these days and they went to see the movie anyway, even if in some aspects [like the ones u [we] noted here], they didn't transpass the surface.

as for me, i didn't come to think of the melancholic feeling of the movie till i read this. and it's true! not that i didn't notice at all on the two screenings i had, but maybe it lacked me the sort of filmic knowledge u have to come to recognize all those elements there, or maybe i [the gay guy] couldn't initially go much through the maze of dior and manolos. still i had MAJOR fun both times i saw it and no idiotic, sexist, hypocritical movie reviewer can't take away from me.

WHOORAY sex and the city! and may come the 3!

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Fashion doesn't scare me as much as it confuses me.

I just caught the episode "Freak Show" episode on tbs and then "The Real Me" (which is the REAL ending of the series) and it's still a hilarious. Still don't want to see the movie, though, I hope a part 3 comes. All he needs to do is write 3 episodes and then link them. No guests stars, no weird

Glad you liked it, though.

Jose said...

Thank you pup!
I'm happy anytime I can get you to shell out a long comment, it means i struck something special :P
I think as you say people were so blinded by their hatred agenda that they failed to see how lovely the references in the movie are and how it's actually a lovesong to the past.

Andrew: thanks!

Luke said...

Thank you for touching on the fact that its pure cinematic escapism, mostly. For the people who were disturbed by the extravagance, as someone definitely feeling the economy, I can say I greatly appreciated the excess and financial disregard. HIGHLY entertaining!

Mike Lippert said...

Your interpretation is certainly interesting and I can't say I disagree with it, as far as what the intentions of this movie are and yet this is still the worst movie I've seen so far in 2010.

The problem is that, it's not enough to channel the past, one has to do something with it, otherwise it's just a game of spot the reference. Oh yes, there's Frank Capra's It Happened One Night, congratulations to me for being able to spot that. Except how much of the film's core audiences (the middle aged women who break out the best attire in order for a night out at the theater) get it or even care for that matter? It's like playing a losing game, the film is both too vain and whimiscal in equal measures to muster up anything resembling either enjoyment or nostalgia. It's like asking whether or not, just because a horror movie knows its bad, does that negate said badness? In most cases it doesn't.

The problem here is that SITC 2 doesn't even know it's bad. The characters have gone from smart women to vain, empty, stupid hags who search desperatly to fill the black holes that rest where their souls should be because they have grown into a life of complete and untter meaninglessness. That sounds kind of like an anti-fairy tale to me. They just aren't likebale. At least the character from Confessions of a Shopaholic was cute and innocent and didn't mean anyone any harm. Here, the moment Carrie suspects her life is becoming anything that resembles normal she goes into mid-life crisis mode.

You argue for this film on the basis that it a throwback to the past and is like a fairytale but isn't that kind of the exact opposite of what made the show so popular in the first place? That these women had depth, they spoke intelligently and went through emotions that resembled something halfway like real ones? Here, when the Indian girls undress to reveal new designer fashions it's not only stupid but it's pompous, racist American flag waving of the worst kind.

Jose said...

Luke: I'm so glad someone else had fun with it! Thank you!

Mike: thanks for sharing your opinion! I think you have valid points but I have a few questions for you.
Is it always necessary to "do something" about references in cinema? Quentin Tarantino has pretty much made a career out of it and nobody ever suggests he should.
I actually do think the throwback factor in SATC2 amounts to something: it's a chronology of the thirties in cinema and how from Berkeley to Oz, America got out of terrible times.
I felt that the story arch in SATC2 was a way of saying "this too shall pass". I don't know if I'm making myself clear.
As for the enjoyment and middle aged women not knowing Colbert and Gable, I agree only on account of them not being into classic film.
I disagree on them not enjoying it, I've seen the movie twice now in a packed theater (it's been playing here for five weeks now and it's still going strong). People react great to it, they laugh, cry and come out of the movie refreshed.
If I was judging the movie solely on audience reactions I'd have to say I heard more people complaining about "The Hurt Locker" than this.

I think there's nothing wrong in having the women go a little insane. I feel their extravagance in this one is owed to existentialist crises. They get to be stupid and shallow because they're trying to escape "real life". I know this isn't the way to do things but I can't say I blame them for this. I still felt King stayed true to who the characters were (even if it was using little things like the dress Carrie wears after stating it was "like 1998").
Yesterday I was watching some random show and SJP talked about the movie.
She established they all wanted the movie to be "an antidote to the first film".
Therefore they went from bleak to exaggerated. I think they do know how extravagant they got with it and in fact the last part of the movie is used as some sort of "moral lesson" to show them what happens when fantasy overtakes reality.

Mike Lippert said...

Jose, Interesting you bring up Tarantino because I think his referncing and this referncing is different. Here, if we accept what you are saying about this being a throwback and since your points are so well written there is no point not to, then yes, it's a throwback, but so what? Sure it's a throwback to stuff like It Happened One Night, even such to the point where it needs to insert the characters watching that movie, but this one represents nothing of what made those movies so special. It's at this point that you seem to run up against a contradiction. Those films were special because they physically took place during hard times, but they looked that in the eye, said here's how it is, and dealt with it with humour and human spirit in a world that was somewhat similar in to ours. They involved comedy that was on a human level, adventures that weren't implausible and characters who were the ideal of the human spirit but also not entirely inhuman at the same time. They appealed to a mass audience.

Now look at SATC2 which really had none of that. It's throwback quality if more indulgence than anything and in fact doesn't get across the idea that everything will be all right like you suggest. Quite to the contrary, this desert fantasy peppered with little references to the economy is more like a screw you: we've done bad business over the last couple of years, but who cares, who could afford to.

Tarantino however, uses his references as a way to construct a completely original narrative. It's possible to watch and enjoy Kill Bill without catching a single reference. Inglorious Basterds needs no knowledge of wartime German film. If you have this knowledge, it certainly enchances the experience but it's not a prerequisite to ones personal enjoyment. Tarantino loves films from the inside out and so his referncing seems more or a way to not only share his love of this theme of this device but also to create something of his own in the process. Maybe King loves the movies of the 30s or whatever but his refernce begins and ends as just that, reference, and adds nothing to a story that is uninspired to begin with without it being populated by superficial morons.

Watch Sex and the City 2 Online said...

I was very much disappointed when I watched this movie. I was completely feeling that I wasted my money on this movie.