In transitioning Sex and the City from the small screen to the big one, filmmaker Michael Patrick King (who was also one of the HBO show runners) chose not to make the movie inclusive. This is for the fans, and only for the fans. Those who lived and loved and suffered and rejoiced over the years with Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda will in all likelihood be delighted by the cinematic production. It is a continuation and an affirmation that life goes on even after reruns. For those who do not consider themselves to be among the Sex and the City faithful, however, this is a painful experience, perhaps the longest 148 minutes likely to be spent in a movie theater this year. Watching grass grow is more dramatically satisfying.
Sex and the City is a lot like Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Although that may at first sound like a bizarre comparison, it’s not a stretch. When it arrived in theaters in 1979, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a valentine to those who loved the TV show. The film was less interested in opening up the Star Trek universe to non-believers than it was in providing a reunion in which every member of the original cast got at least one moment in the spotlight. Fans embraced the film. On the other hand, casual viewers were bored out of their minds. History repeats itself with Sex and the City. This is an exercise in self-indulgence – an episode of the TV series inflated to grotesquely exaggerated proportions both in terms of size and running time. What can make for disposable entertainment in 30-minute bites becomes unbearably tedious when expanded to five times that length.
The movie opens by catching up with where the lives of the characters have gone since the end of the TV show. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) is still with Mr. Big (Chris Noth). His professed undying love has not diminished. Now, they’re talking about moving in together and getting married. Yet as plans for the nuptials get underway, ideas for an intimate gathering are inflated in direct proportion to the price tag on the wedding gown. Meanwhile, Samantha (Kim Cattrall) is living the life of luxury in California, but she’s bored and her out-of-control libido is threatening to ruin her cozy life. Charlotte (Kristin Davis) is a doting wife and mother but is worried that her life may be too perfect and that karma may be waiting to put her through a wringer. Finally, Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) learns that there’s a price to be paid for a lack of sexual intimacy in the marriage bed.
The TV series Sex and the City was often lauded as having been one of the smartest written shows during its era. While that may have been true, little of the reputed intelligence has made it into the movie’s screenplay. The storyline is a turgidly paced soap opera with minimal character development. The four principals are largely in the same place at the end of the movie as they are at the beginning. The screenplay relies on viewers having “grown” with these individuals over the years. Those starting the journey with the movie will come away wondering why anyone would care about four unpleasant, shallow, self-absorbed women. The dialogue, which was said to be a strong point of the TV program, is trite and riddled with clichés. And Sarah Jessica Parker’s voiceovers, instead of setting the scene and providing pithy narration, come and go randomly and add little to the proceedings.
Sex and the City isn’t especially funny, although it labors hard to be. The movie’s idea of “clever” is to have a conversation about sex using the word “coloring” as a euphemism (so as not to distress a young girl in the room). This leads to dialogue that is worthy of the old sit-com Three’s Company. The film’s biggest laugh comes not as a result of sex talk or bedroom hijinks but when Charlotte ingests something that doesn’t agree with her and she can’t make it to the bathroom in time. That’s right: Sex and the City‘s funniest gag is a poop joke.
The film’s idea of breaking new ground is to introduce the secondary character of Louise (Jennifer Hudson), Carrie’s new assistant. She is given a complete, perfunctory arc and is effectively written out after having been in only a handful of scenes. At least there’s someone on screen who isn’t white, skinny, and nails-on-the-blackboard unpleasant. Sadly, even she can’t escape infection by the cupidity that suffuses Sex and the City. Unable to afford brand-name handbags, she rents them. The ultimate expression of Carrie’s affection for her assistant is to present her with a real Louis Vuitton as a Christmas gift. In a way, Sex and the City suffers from bad timing. Its celebration of materialism feels a little out of whack with the national mood in the midst of a recession.
So which is Sex and the City: the continuation of a modern-day fairy tale begun on television and adored by millions (most of whom are women and gay men) or a sloppily-made, unbearably long slog through the lives of four unpleasant individuals whose values are more screwed up than their love lives? It is, in fact, both. The niche audience will applaud it; everyone else will either ignore it (the wisest choice) or fall asleep if ambushed into seeing it. There are no surprises here, either for fans or non-fans. The difference is that those who have developed a love for the TV series will savor the comfort of being reunited with old friends while other viewers will care even less about Sex and the City‘s protagonists on the way out of the theater than they do on the way in.