By Kyle | May 29, 2008
3 stars out of 4
2 hrs 24 minutes/Rated R
Kyle Smith review of “Sex and the City”
The big-screen version of “Sex and the City” is a love story with a ruthlessly cynical subtext. When David Mamet wrote, “Love makes the world go round–love of gold,” he could have been reviewing the movie.
Which is at about the same level of an average, though ridiculously elongated, episode of the series, with a couple of touching moments and the usual mix of sharp New York jokes and wheezing puns.
Since all four of the girls begin the movie in long-term relationships–Carrie and Big are together, but she still has her own apartment; Miranda and Charlotte are still married (not to each other); and Samantha is the L.A.-based manager of her boyfriend, the David Beckham-ish actor Smith–the movie takes more time to get started than the four divas take getting dressed in the morning.
Various breakups and attempts at reconciliation and personal growth will drive the plot, but for a good long stretch the movie keeps diving into its own shallowness and hitting its head on the bottom of the reflecting pool. That, plus some completely extraneous scenes–one in which the plot stops dead for everyone to visit a fashion show, another in which Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker, who is also a producer on the project) tries on her pouffiest 80s outfits as the three lesser beings rule whether to keep them or toss them–means we’re in for one of the longest romantic comedies ever released in Hollywood. But it’s a movie about indulgence and catching up with old friends, and not many fans of the show will be checking their watches.
At the start, the naked, panting moneylust is so extreme that the effect is as embarrassing as listening to your neighbors’ mating calls, or a Danielle Steel novel. Carrie and Mr. Big (Chris Noth) are shopping for apartments-but not just any apartment. It has to be a penthouse on Fifth Avenue the size of Yankee Stadium. Presented with this palace, what does Carrie do? She complains about the size of the closet. Other non-scintillating storylines include whether Samantha (Kim Cattrall) will succeed in winning an auction for a $50,000 ring. At times this is less a movie than a catalogue.
The strangest situation is that of Miranda, who has been priced out of Manhattan and is living with her husband Steve and their kid in (ewww) lowly Brooklyn. But Miranda is the only one of the four women whose income depends entirely on her own efforts–she is a Harvard-trained corporate lawyer and could easily afford the kind of multi-million dollar home that the others acquire by attaching themselves to rich men. The movie seems determined to punish her for not fitting the fairy princess narrative of marrying way, way up. Later, she’ll be seen looking at cheap apartments in Chinatown, as though she were at the same income level as an immigrant.
As Carrie heads toward marrying Big, she gets caught up in a girly fantasy. Vogue (personified by Candice Bergen as an editor) hires her to do a story on her own wedding, which means Oscar de la Renta is sending over a gown! They say a girl’s wedding day is the happiest of her life, but for Carrie, the highlight is getting a present from Vivienne Westwood. She also wants to hold the ceremony at the headquarters of the New York Public Library, supposedly because that’s where all the love stories are, but it’s hard to get around the idea that what she really craves is the status symbol value of the most lavish reception hall imaginable.
To its credit, though, the movie turns Carrie’s value system, which equates “the two Ls–Labels and Love” to its advantage, and in the second half, when the girls run into various real-world difficulties the movie achieves a nice balance between comedy and drama.
Jennifer Hudson, the Oscar winner from “Dreamgirls,” who shows up as Carrie’s Webmaster and wisdom-dispenser, is written in the same Magic Negro key as the archetypes once played by Will Smith and Morgan Freeman, but Hudson is a welcome addition, with her kind eyes, her soft voice and her practical approach to style: Her designer handbags are rented. (That the script dubs her Louise, from St. Louis, meaning Carrie calls her St. Louise, must be counted as overkill.) The Hudson character also sets up one of the movie’s best jokes, in which Carrie decides to watch “Meet Me in St. Louis” on New Year’s Eve.
Writer-director Michael Patrick King hasn’t quite worked out the differences between TV and movies. The screenwriter William Goldman refers to the last half hour of a film as the time when we should be “gunning for curtain,” but “Sex and the City” keeps wandering away from its main storyline to subplots and subplots of subplots, such as one about a sudden weight gain about Samantha. (As usual, Samantha’s adventures are the gay-porn section of the movie, complete with a lengthy full-body shot of a hunky guy showering. His name is Dante–King heaves in a feeble pun about hell–but around the locker room he seems more likely to be known as “pepper mill.”)
Flabby as his structure is, though, King does come up with plenty of witty lines, and when the women take a break from gawping at labels and make with the banter, things click into place. A joke about Charlotte’s suspicion of drinking the water in Mexico is well set-up and leads to a big laugh at an important point in the story, and Samantha’s idea of covering her nude body in sushi as a treat for her lover yields, “I got wasabi in places where one should never get wasabi.” Samantha’s zipping from coast to coast produces far too many shots of her making entrances and lots of ear-rattling squeals from Charlotte, but then again it does leave us with a classic Gotham zinger: “When was the last time you felt happy?” Samantha is asked. “Six months ago,” she says. Which sets up the response, “I think that’s normal for L.A.”