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.