Getting Carried Away - A review of The Sex and The City Movie

This is the summer of blockbusters. There are films about men in iron suits attacking other men in iron suits, giant angry green men fighting on the streets of New York and then a man in a bat suit chasing a clown! See the common thread there? Usually the summer blockbuster is staple entertainment for 20-somethings around the world. It has been this way for some time now.

However, this year things appear to be quite different from the usual suspects of testosterone-driven, CGI-infested blockbusters. Four young(ish) women from New York will change all that. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Samantha (Kim Cattrall) reunite for the motion picture adaptation of HBO’s Prime Time, Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning series, Sex and the City.

The original series, based on a novel by Candace Bushnell, premiered on HBO on June 6, 1998, and was one of the highest-rated sitcoms of the season. It became an anchor for the subscription-based network and pitted it against the free-to-air networks at the time. And because of its cable status, HBO claimed an edge over the other networks in being able to push the envelope of the series’ content by staying somewhat true to the book. The show ran for six seasons and defined the woman of the 21st century, her fashion sense and her ambitions: Both for work and love.

Now, four years later, and 10 years after the show first started, Carrie and the gang take their adventures and stories to the big screen. The film opens to the classic voiceover by Carrie explaining that “Year after year, 20-something women come to New York City in search of the two ‘L’s: Labels and love.” With that brief sentence (add another good two decades to the age factor) she recaptures and reiterates the essence of the series. The montage that follows brings us up to date on the characters and their story, four years after the show ended.

Here’s a quick primer on where our favorite characters are now: Miranda is now living in Brooklyn with Steve (David Eigenberg), their son, Brady, and their housekeeper, Magda (Lynn Cohen); Charlotte and Harry (Evan Handler) live in Upper East Side bliss with their daughter, Lily; and Samantha has made Malibu her home and manages the career of her actor boyfriend Smith (Jason Lewis). Meanwhile, Carrie herself is almost settling down with her on-again off-again but now on-for-the-moment beau, Mr Big aka John James Preston portrayed by Chris Noth.

Joining in the cast is Academy Award-winner Jennifer Hudson. She plays Carrie’s personal assistant, Louise, and brings a point of view from the younger members of the audiences, the 20-something crowd, about the show.

They say that behind every successful man is a woman. In this case it’s four successful women and behind them are two men: Michael Patrick King and Darren Star. It would be a mammoth task to bring the vision and feel of the show to the big screen, and any other director would have quite a difficult time. But not Michael Patrick King. He was an executive producer on the original show along with show creator Darren Star. He also directed most of the show’s latter seasons.

Star paid Bushnell a reported $50,000 for the rights of her book and her columns and used them to develop the series, which would be realised by directors such as King later on in the season’s run. But it is King now who directs and writes the film and he has kept Star’s original vision in mind.

This, however, is not the first time they’ve tried to make a Sex and the City film. Shortly after the series ended in 2004, rumors began to circulate about the film. Nothing came to realisation however, as further rumors instigated that three out of the four girls did not want to sign up unless they were being paid almost or equal to the amount that Sarah Jessica Parker was getting. There were also rumours that Kim Cattrall did not see eye to eye with Sarah Jessica Parker because the latter had trimmed down the former’s character in the show’s later years.

Sarah Jessica Parker became the producer of the show later on in its run and indeed, the limelight shifted from the show-stealing Cattrall to the show’s star, Parker. But it seems all of that is buried in kitty litter now as the girls put their past differences aside for this outing.

By definition, Sex and the City is the mother of all chick flicks. Add one part marriage, one part couple wanting a baby, two parts woman coming to terms with her age, and a dash of romance sprinkled with funny moments all round. But you can’t limit it to that; it’s so much more.

For fans of the show this film is like getting a letter from a loved one, a visual treat and nod to a series that brought so much fun and joy to its fans. To its critics, it is everything that is wrong about the show: A giant glorification of beauty that is skin deep and celebrating bad jokes in just as bad a taste.

It is no justification to call this film a romantic comedy. Sure, there are moments that are romantic and moments that are comedic. It’s also emotionally realistic, even brutal. The characters are now in their 40s and 50s, and yet they continue to navigate the choppy waters of urban life, negotiating relationships, work, fertility and friendship. Only now, because this is the film, the stakes are higher, the risks are bigger and decisions feel more permanent.

The story predominately revolves around Carrie getting married to Mr Big and interwoven in between are the stories of the other characters. At the same time, the stories are told in such a way that it confounds the audience’s expectations, but satisfyingly so. The surprise of course is in the ability to confound the expectation of an already established (and some would say exhausted) story of a character, which King so brilliantly does.

There is also the question of will they or won’t they? Women have had to bear with buildings being blown up and planes being hijacked and dinosaurs roaming the streets of the cities, so will men go to watch this film? It is only fair that now men bear with four women, as they talk about aging, life, relationships and love.

But being released on the heels of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, one would think it wouldn’t stand a chance. To date, Sex and the City has made $222,786,392 worldwide, meaning that fans have indeed welcomed the show back with breathless anticipation and open arms.

So is this the final chapter in the lives of Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha? Probably not. Because if Carrie and the girls have their way, they have a whole lot of stories left to tell.

(This review appeared in the June 15th Edition of DAWN Images)