They’re back and they’re just as devoted and frothy as ever. Get over it.
Oh come on, like I could resist writing about the non-Guy Movie of the summer? The movie that launched a thousand arbitrary insults about Sarah Jessica Parker’s bone structure and man hands? The flick that spawned magazine covers of the Fabulous Four with duct tape over their mouths, and editorial “art” that made them look like nightmare gargoyles? This year’s Thelma & Louise? Well, yeah, that was the original plan…until critics, bloggers, and various and sundry others started acting like the further adventures of a hit TV show’s cast signaled the end of civilization. Jeez, you’d think with all the critical invective raining down upon it that Sex and the City: The Movie featured its stars torturing puppies and impaling John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty with their stilettos while getting their hair washed in mother’s milk stolen from the mouths of starving babes. Because that seems to be the prevailing tone: how dare they (insert affront to humanity here). Or rather, how dare those women over forty (insert affront to humanity here). Shame, shame, shame. It’s like 1991 all over again. And Carrie Bradshaw and Company don’t even shoot people.
No, they commit more egregious sins. They shop. They talk about sex. They get caught up in the pop cultural obsession with dream weddings. They get bitchy. They nurse broken hearts. They dare to put their needs and desires ahead of a man’s. They revel in high fashion, even when the couture clothes look absurd. They eat too much. They get the runs in Mexico. They are there for each other in difficult times. They have active sex lives. Oh, dear God, no! Run for your lives! They’re doing…exactly what they did on the TV series (except for the Mexico turistas part). Maybe that’s why the audience I saw it with on opening day—complete with groups of women dressed to the nines at ten in the morning for the occasion—generally seemed to enjoy this extended episode in the lives and loves of Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte. I know I did.
Now, I’m not a dresser upper, and I was miraculously ahead of the Cosmos curve. And because I lived in Manhattan when the series debuted on HBO, I was quite aware of how much of the show was a fantasy (don’t get me started about subway grating, downtown cobblestones, and high heels). But I have to say, the main reason I loved the show was that it made me laugh myself silly on a regular basis. These women may have been ridiculous on one level, but they were funny. They were funny, they were deeply flawed, yet they—and the show—had it in them to be remarkably insightful. The shoes and outfits didn’t hurt, either (my grad school friends and I always believed, contrary to accepted wisdom, that deep scholarly thought does not preclude one from caring about clothes). The well-appointed femmes are funny in the movie as well, in the same goofy, plainspoken way they’ve always been. They also reiterate and expand upon the central, seemingly simple idea animating the show: your friends matter. Yes, it’s buddies before bitches (hoes before bros?) for the SATC ladies. Oh my, maybe that’s the problem.
Here is where the thoughts of Thelma & Louise and its infamous “toxic feminism” entered the room. On the surface, SATC’s impeccably groomed, happily coupled or uncoupled, incredibly upscale urbanites might appear to have little in common with the sun burnished desperadoes in the green Thunderbird. Nevertheless, it was one aspect of the criticism leveled at SATC that reverberated back seventeen years to those women drivers. That is, a certain number of (male) critics were annoyed that the male characters in both films were ciphers who served little purpose beyond being the generic boyfriend/husband/lover/schmuck, relegated to the margins and divested of any storylines. Sucks seeing your onscreen counterparts so reduced, doesn’t it? Welcome to the experience of the female audience when confronted with most Hollywood product. Especially in this silly season.
This complaint, however, also points up one of the “radical” notions latent in these movies about women too old to be dismissed as silly girls who’ll get over their enjoyment in hanging out with each other. By putting the women first, SATC, like its dustier, grittier counterpart, suggests that men may be important, but they aren’t always the protagonists and heroes for every narrative (really, this is still a disruptive idea in 2008? Really? That’s just…sad). Yes, the movie is all about how the quartet’s relationships with their men have progressed (or not) in the four years since the series ended. The central traumas do concern romantic heartbreak, and the women are overjoyed when their men come through for them, or gracefully let them go. They discuss love, sex, marriage, and men ad infinitum. Nevertheless, the movie’s major set pieces underscore the crucial, rejuvenating vitality of the women’s friendships—and how that idea is almost willfully ignored by critics out to tear the movie a new one.
The trip to Mexico is instructive in this regard, in that it provoked more than one writer to grouse about the absurdity of these women dropping everything to go on this trip with Carrie (don’t they have jobs, they are miraculously accessible etc. etc.). Yet, isn’t that the point? It’s Carrie’s friends who get her through that Big disaster. She may not have gotten the honeymoon that she dreamed of, but she did get the trip away with her friends that she needed. It isn’t a one-way deal for the self-absorbed Ms. Bradshaw, either. Even if you don’t know from the show that Carrie always takes cabs, it’s still possible to discern that her trip downtown via subway on New Year’s Eve to keep Miranda company is an equally meaningful, if less excessive, act of friendship. Samantha keeps popping up at Carrie’s apartment as much to enjoy the company of her friends as to acknowledge major moments in their lives. Big is Carrie’s prince not because he builds her the Best Closet Ever, but because he knows that she would want her friends to be there on her wedding day. Also, it’s no accident that the movie begins and ends not with Carrie and Big, but with Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte joyously out on the town together. This form of “love” means as much, if not more, to them as romance.
Curiously, however, that point seems to be lost on the haters. Instead, the movie is an orgy of materialism about grotesquely over the hill women who think they’re still attractive to men and act accordingly. But I have to ask—I can’t help but wonder—why does this movie land scenario have to be turned into a bad thing? It’s as much a fantasy as Indiana Jones’s feats of adventure archeology and Tony Stark’s super-powered iron suit. Except instead of pretending that a guy in his 60s is still fit enough to crack whips, or a ridiculously wealthy guy can find redemption through deluxe gold titanium tailoring, SATC presents the more, shall we say, down to earth “women’s picture” dream that female beauty is not the same thing as youth, yet you can always play dress-up with your BFFs (who really are FFs). Even better, you can always count on your friends, and, ultimately, you can count on men to do the right thing (nope, these women don’t have to drive off a cliff). Those are some rather appealing, humanistic dreams that warmed this cynic’s heart regardless of the surface frivolity.
Now I realize that this SATC fantasy may not be to everyone’s tastes (seriously, though, Anthony Lane needs to talk to a professional about his horror of the older-than-35 female body). Nevertheless, why is a movie about close female friendships so hard to take that the redemptive power of that friendship can’t even be acknowledged, let alone appreciated? That it has to be ripped apart as product placement run amok (because there’s never product placement in guy movies), reverse sexism against men, and all-around repulsive narcissism? Can’t grown women fully claim center stage in at least one summer flick without it becoming a national incident? Movie after movie tells us that men bond and women are window-dressing. Does it really upset the apple cart that much to reverse the dynamic once every decade?
Well, don’t worry, people. The successes of a panda Jack Black and a mullet head Adam Sandler have restored order to the movie-going universe. Skidoosh.
Guy Movies is a biweekly analysis of machismo cinema from the perspective of a woman.