Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Movie Review: Sex & The City 2

Many Hollywood-made war films contain a certain convention, one that is so overdone that it was hilariously lampooned in Team America: World Police. (Link is very not safe for work!) That convention is to take any factual account of a conflict, at any point in the world's history, and rewrite the ending to say: "And then AMERICA stepped in and SAVED THE DAY!" No matter whether in fact, the saviours of that particular battle were British, French, German, etc., America makes the movies so America gets to claim the victory. The ultimate example of this, of course, is Independence Day, when AMERICA gets to save the entire PLANET from destruction.

If you've ever wondered what that convention would look like when aimed at women, watch Sex & The City 2.

I have never in my life seen an episode of SATC, nor did I see the first movie. The only reason I went is because there is NOTHING GOOD PLAYING at the movie theatres this summer, and I wanted to get together with my friend Shellie and see a movie. As a side note, I would recommend that if any of you need to sit through a terrible movie for any reason, you should do so with Shellie. And yes! SATC2 is a terrible, terrible movie, but that wasn't really a surprise to me - even with no previous SATC experience, I was pretty sure I was in for two hours of shoe-centric superficiality, and I was not wrong. But what I did not expect was the profound offensiveness of this movie, relentlessly hammering at me from every side.

Let's start with the opening. We learn that "her best gay friend is marrying my best gay friend!" Oh, isn't that exciting? We soon find ourselves at the actual wedding: an all-male show choir dressed in white tuxes and top hats sings show tunes; swans swim placidly along a river that inexplicably runs through the indoor venue; the ceremony turns out to be presided over by none other than Liza Minelli. The main characters exchange witty quips and one-liners written for the sole purpose of making the audience understand that these people are hip and effortlessly hilarious. Unfortunately, the writing is so flat and the delivery so self-conscious that the effect is mostly to remind us that we are watching a movie, rather than allowing us to enter their world, as any opening scene should accomplish.

Moreover, the one-liners are rude and offensive. Nearly every line contains the word "gay" or some other reference to the grooms' homosexuality. I'm not even going to bring in my own personal politics here; instead, I will merely point out that if you actually value and care about any individual, you don't use qualifiers regarding sexual orientation, skin colour, religion, gender, dis/ability, or any other descriptor that has nothing to do with your friendship. Therefore, the only reason to keep going on about the gay best friend and the gay wedding and the gay dog and the gay swans and the gay show choir and the gay gayfull gayness of the gay-ity, is to make sure everyone around you understands what really matters here: you have a gay friend, and that makes you cool! Liking gay people because they're gay strikes me as being homophobic.

The next scene, I feel compelled to mention, features Liza Minelli (who is now 64 years old, and looks every bit of it) in a sequined outfit singing one of my favourite songs. Please take a moment to fully immerse yourself in the abhorrence of this scene, and then reflect that the movie actually manages to get worse from there. Friends, I wish I were kidding.

Half of this movie takes place in Abu Dhabi, an Islamic city in Arabia. There’s a reason given for this, but it makes no sense and even the scriptwriters abandoned that storyline with no explanation when they ran out of ideas. Putting the four most superficial women in America smack dab in the Middle East allows for many racist jokes and opportunities to point out how weird foreigners are. For example, shortly after arriving at their hotel, Charlotte expresses anxiety that she can’t reach her husband via cell phone to check on the kids. Her friends’ response is to chide her to stop obsessing and instead, join them in rubber-necking a woman in a hijaab eating French fries. Clearly, checking in with family is a distant second to staring in open-mouthed ignorance at someone else’s cultural traditions. PRIORITIES, Charlotte! Tsk tsk.

But don’t worry, the girls don’t have to go to the Middle East to be unrelatable and irritating. No, there are plenty of ridiculous moments in the usual backdrop of New York, as well – such as the moment when the main character, Carrie, gets mad at her husband for bringing home takeout. We all just HATE IT when our partners do that, don’t we ladies? THE VERY NERVE.

The pinnacle of jaw-dropping, head-shaking, seizure-inducing stupidity comes at the climax of the film. The women are rushing through the Abu Dhabi marketplace, being followed by a group of men who are angry about the women’s [lack of ] clothing. This is meant to be a tense moment, and it would be if you actually gave a crap about these characters: they are hurrying as fast as they can, because the stakes couldn’t possibly be higher. Are they worried about being stoned by the angry men? No, much worse! You see, if they don’t make their flight in time ... they’re going to have to fly home in coach.

But just as things couldn’t get worse, a hijaab-clad woman gives the girls the high sign to duck into a secret sanctuary. There, it is revealed that underneath their traditional clothing, the Arabian women are all wearing designer clothing, the same items our “heroines” wear. Fashions that cost thousands of dollars, being worn by women who are legally considered the property of their husbands and are not permitted to hold jobs or earn money of their own. Why, yes! That makes perfect sense. Thank you so much, Carrie Bradshaw, for explaining this to me!

Speaking of Carrie, she’s got some ‘splainin to do when she gets home to her husband. See, she ran into an old boyfriend in Abu Dhabi, and one thing led to another, and they kissed. Carrie did the right thing in cutting things short, heading back to the hotel and calling her husband to grovel and whine, er I mean apologize, but it’s not clear yet how her husband will respond to this transgression. When she arrives home, tentative and anxious, he mentions his worry that she is “kind of a rookie at this marriage thing” and perhaps needs a constant reminder that she is, in fact, married. Then he produces a lovely black box and a stunning diamond ring. Another important life lesson: foreign country + ex-boyfriend + kiss + confession to husband = bling bling! It’s foolproof, right? (This is good news for me, as my passport just arrived the other day. I wonder how far I would have to go, both geographically and make-out-wise, to get a new watch?)

There are a lot of atrocities in this movie that I’m not even mentioning, and you should be grateful for that, because I’m pretty sure no amount of brain-scrubbing is going to erase my memory of Kim Cattrall gleefully sing-songing “Lawrence of my labia!” (Whoops. Sorry.)

I fail to understand the appeal of movies like this - they usually have me gritting my teeth to restrain myself from yelling, "THIS IS WHAT HOLLYWOOD THINKS OF WOMEN! IS THAT REALLY OKAY WITH YOU?" There are probably lots of women out there who are able to take this franchise (and that other one) as light, amusing escapism, without ever questioning the underlying messages. That's probably a happier way to look at life, but unfortunately it's not one I can manage to master. I haven’t seen a movie this bad in a long, long, LONG time, but on the whole my experience of seeing it was phenomenal, since I had the pleasure of sitting with a like-minded woman who happily and enthusiastically mocked along with me. Even happier is the news that although the mockers are likely in the minority, we're not completely alone. And for this, I am grateful.

2 comments:

Sally said...

Like.

Jess said...

Yes, indeed, this is why I did not go to this movie. I knew it was going to be a complete pile of shit, and I am a BIG FAN of the original SATC *tv series* so I further didn't need to see what I liked about these characters made stupid, ridiculous and awful in this movie.

Couple things to mention:
1. Don't take this as indicative of the writing or characters from the series. Rent the series from episode 1 if you're curious. Yes, there are shallow moments etc, but in the tv series they are for the most part real women with real struggles in love and career (who do live in a bit of a fantasy world where a woman who writes a newspaper column can afford $400 shoes) but other than that, it's a delightful series with a few real moments and BETTER WRITERS.

2. (well off) middle eastern women *do* in fact wear high fashion under their burkas (according to an Iranian woman who is a friend of mine). So that part while maybe offensively portrayed, is, I'm afraid, true.

3. The gays, yes, I totally get what you're saying. Though I have to point out: I have sat in a room full of gay boys at a party in which they literally made gay jokes and sex jokes about each other for hours. It is a part of the culture to "out-gay" each other and "fag-hags" do join in on the slightly annoying tendency to mold entire conversations around "how gay that is!" Annoying but true to life as well.

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