The longer I’ve been reviewing film, the more I’m convinced that some movies don’t deserve the time and reflection of a write-up. Some of us withhold the price of a ticket when we want to send a message to the studios, and some of us want to withhold our words altogether and not give these productions the attention they thrive on. Michael Patrick King, who once injected a little substance and satire into his Manhattan love-letters when they ran on HBO, has added another unworthy to the pantheon of Truly Stupid Films, which includes Date Movie, Big Momma’s House, Larry the Cable Guy, and The House Bunny. But Sex and the City 2 stands out from that crowd, and not on account of its bold textiles and outrageous hats. I can’t remember the last time a Truly Stupid Film commanded so much discourse, and that’s the only thing that makes this movie interesting. Like a black hole of thought, SATC2 wafts from screen to screen surrounded by an event horizon of half-baked criticisms, the kind commentators think insightful or cutting. My Twitter feed and Facebook page are littered with them, as are the bylines on news sites. I’ve only read three SATC2 reviews but I feel like I’ve absorbed a thousand. If you were online over the course of the last few weeks, you couldn’t miss the opinions even if you tried — opinions as pat and idiotic as the film itself.
The problem with movies like SATC2 is that there isn’t much to say about the film in its own right, so it’s no wonder critics (including yours truly) lard their reviews with more cultural commentary than the project deserves. There are only so many synonyms for ‘contrived’ and ‘lifeless’ and only so many verbal eye-rolls permitted in one article. Writing about the movie’s plot is a redundant activity; even if you’ve never seen the HBO series, you know the names and traits of its characters by osmosis. The latest SATC vehicle extends the narrative by two years but doesn’t add any other dimension. Miranda and Charlotte still have mommy issues, Samantha’s still squatting on the fountain of youth, and Carrie still wants to dine out every night of the week. Conflict isn’t born of interesting problems and drama is churned up for its own sake (sick of eating takeout, Carrie demands catered food for a change, creating ‘marital strife’). King relies on oh-no-he-didn’t cliché, especially when he treats motherhood (kitchen made chaotic by screaming kids, or parent arriving at science fair in time to see offspring win prize). We’re supposed to feel ‘swept away’ by the ‘magic’ when he plops his women in the middle of Abu Dhabi for a luxury vacation, and we’re expected to feel as wondrous as the characters feel on arrival — it’s the Middle East as Disney World, complete with Disneyfied soundtrack of harp and bells. But I didn’t feel any of the magic I was being spoonfed, or laugh at any of the excruciating puns. I didn’t feel fantasy-envy over the clothes, the suites or the personal butlers. I felt nothing because I was faced with nothing — a much-ado-about nothing, perhaps, but nothing nevertheless. Jokes fell flat, drama died before it took its first breath, pacing calcified, and I discovered the fine line that separates escapism from morbidity.
SATC2 is truly inert. How can so much color look so faded? I watched the original series for its eye-candy, which at the time seemed as vibrant as the show’s valuable sex-positive message. Now the endless tableaux of figures wrapped in fashion strike me as nothing more than vanity ops for the series’ hyper costumer, Pat Field. Now the foursome poses in sand dunes instead of Central Park, and now Cynthia Nixon looks humiliated — clamped to the screen by contractual obligation and the beak of her angry red bob. Kristen Davis has finally been reduced to nothing but squeaks and wedges and Kim Cattrall to hormonal waves. Sarah Jessica Parker, ostensibly our sympathetic locus, irons her flat caricature into a flatter cartoon and makes us question how she ever managed to carry this vehicle. Now the show’s excesses are completely unmoored from meaning, which was somehow cobbled together back when HBO had full control of the product. Now the series’ progressive thrust, always tenuous, has been destroyed in one fell scene when the foursome gets on a karaoke stage and belts out “I Am Woman” through pasted-on grins. How the filmmakers expect anyone to feel buoyed by this pandering chum is one for the ages. The movie’s biggest failing is its attempt to handle complex issues — marriage, career, sexuality, Middle Fucking Eastern gender politics — and fumble every one of them. There’s no use pouting “it’s just a fluffy escapist movie” in response to this criticism either; the filmmakers themselves rolled up their sleeves and thrust their hands into these clay-mounds, but didn’t know what to do with the misshapen forms they cast. The movie is one enormous internal contradiction that undermines its own pronouncements from scene to scene. It’s an airhead on a Pulitzer stage and it’s embarrassing enough to be a spectator. I can’t imagine how embarrassed its actual participants are feeling.
If those participants seem to be going through the motions, so are some of the movie’s commentators. Boiling things down to facile reductions seems to be something of a contagion these days. SATC2 has been attacked for its portrayal of privilege, gross consumption, or confused feminism — all of which is fair, however common onscreen — but most of the attacks I’ve read lack basic cultural awareness, like they came off the same script that drew the movie. Some are dressed in false logic or mouth-breathing misogyny, strewn with terms like ‘hag’ and ‘whore’ (I don’t see the ‘hag’ in a fit, well-groomed 40-something, and only religious zealots think there’s a limit on how many partners a woman can have in 2010). The movie’s arrant Orientalism doesn’t win any hearts, and there are appropriate criticisms to be made about King’s uneasy and unconvincing celebration of individual destiny. This movie’s already famous for its ability to trigger knee-jerk fury — to which, believe me, I wasn’t immune — but some of those reactions annoy me more than the movie did and (as one of my Facebook friends complained) it pisses me off that I’m compelled to defend these moronic characters, at least in so far as their right to possess sexual confidence and a sexy heel over the age of 40. For all its bullshit, Sex and the City 2 has drawn attention to the problem of the ugly ‘dem whores who aren’t pretty enough’ mindset; I’ve watched some blogs modify their rhetoric with new awareness overnight, as if the critical mass of rancid invective surrounding SATC2 has shown them the light. Maybe some good will come out of the existence of this addled manifesto disguised as a frivolous and lifeless film, which mostly irks us, I think, because it portrays our own excesses to such nauseating excess. — Ranylt Richildis