‘Sex and the City’: The Four Sisters of Commodification Ride Again
By Jessica Fromm
Sex and the City, the seminal ladies-who-lunch HBO series turned watered-down TBS syndication cash cow, is brought to the big screen with all the drama, glitz, consumer spots and bad puns that you would expect. And hordes of women have been waiting, even salivating for the experience—after all, the series was a socio-cultural phenomenon in the late ’90s, contributing to current fashion trends (the exposed bra strap), popularizing the cosmopolitan cocktail and prompting discussions on relationships and sex.
The movie version, written and directed by Michael Patrick King, comes off like an extended mash-up of four of five episodes of the show. Each character gets her time in the spotlight, whether it be columnist Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and her never-ending spectacle of a relationship with Mr. Big (Chris Noth); the baby lust of goody-goody Charlotte (Kristen Davis); sullen lawyer Miranda’s (Cynthia Nixon) domestic stress; or cougar Samantha’s (Kim Cattrall) insatiable one-track hunger for the opposite sex. It’s obvious these four lead actresses waited for the right script, and the right money, to once again pour themselves into all the little designer dresses that longtime show costume designer Patricia Field could manage.
Except for narration, which tells us that it’s three years and three books later for Carrie, the film offers little in the way of storyline catch-up. Sex and the City doesn’t pretend to be for anybody but fans of the show, who already know that they’re in for: four upscale, urban characters in fashion-forward attire talking about sex, clothes, relationships and culture. With the show’s popularity expanded exponentially via DVD box sets and basic-cable reruns, the filmmakers seem to be banking on the fact that the women—and a few men—who will flock to see Sex and the City are there for more of the same.
The film matches the look of the series, except for bigger zings of color via the characters vast wardrobes and a few wider shots. It sticks to the show’s narration style, with Parker’s neatly packaged voice-over leading in and out of each segment. Even if they are rumored to despise each other in real life, the lead actresses seem comfortable in their old roles, like good friends catching up over cocktails.
In her first big-screen role since Dreamgirls in 2006, Jennifer Hudson is brought in as Carrie’s new assistant, Louise, a character so saintly and superficial that you can’t help but think her main purpose is to break up the film’s Anglo monopoly.
Additionally, the tone of this group has changed slightly. Seeing that the gang of 30-somethings are now 40-somethings, the nature of the film is more mature, more melancholy and much more focused on creating desire for a certain lifestyle than on opening up a dialogue on sex and relationships in a humorous way.
True, it’s not 1998 anymore, and we are no longer shocked by hearing women talk about when, where and how they want it a la carte. You can’t help but thinking, however, that the film seems to be presented from the perspective of what lifestyle a gay man, like writer/director Michael Patrick King, thinks women should subscribe to. Did Sex and the City life coach a whole generation of women into a paradigm that emphasizes one-night stands as a statement of independence and self-reliance?
This strategy isn’t necessarily wrong in itself, but it does present a conundrum when you see how seriously some women take the lifestyle presented in Sex and the City. It’s no secret that the popularity of the show is boosted by women’s tendency to identify with Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda, but when you actually have women walking around with “I’m a Carrie” or “I’m a Samantha” cutoff baby tees, you start to worry. There are probably some dental hygienists out there who buy into the show’s male-created fantasy so wholeheartedly that they really believe that with the right pair of designer stilettos and persistent sexual self-revelation they will truly be empowered.
The commodification presented in Sex and the City is also troubling. Although the HBO series was heavy on the worship of high-fashion luxury goods, the film is practically a walking, talking, f—ing commercial for all things designer. Don’t get me wrong, girls like to shop for pretty things, but these women’s lives are served up like a little-girl-grown-up dress-up parade. In the real world, most women’s biggest concern isn’t finding the right man with the right amount of money to provide her with enough closet space to house her vast collection of shoes.
Finally, at 145 minutes, Sex and the City is too longwinded for its own good, with the final act that drags as it attempts to tie up the characters’ loose ends. Even for ardent fans, the film would benefit from some significant cutting. Sex and the City is beautiful and adored by women like a good pair of Manolo Blahniks, but after more than two hours of jumping around, they both really start to pinch.
SEX AND THE CITY (R; 145 min.), directed by Michael Patrick King, written by King based on characters created by Candace Bushnell, photographed by John Thomas and starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis and Cynthia Davis plays valleywide.