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How not to write a critique of Sex and the City 2

June 4, 2010

For those of you that actively avoid television commercials, banner ads, billboards, outdoor wall posters, magazine covers, or word-of-mouth, allow me to inform you that Sex and the City 2 hits the theatres this week. What will the critics have to tell us?

Ella Taylor, Village Voice Media:

“I’m sorry, but a 64-year-old woman [Liza Minnelli] in a shirt worn over tights is not a happy sight, no matter how good she once was at this. You want to avert your eyes for her sake—and be warned, there’s more of that coming in SATC2.”

Robbie Collin, News of the World (UK):

“Although it’s set over 20 years ago, they don’t look a day younger – largely because the botox-addled bats are already air-brushed within an inch of their lives for the scenes set in the present.”

Wait…what are you trying to say? I’m not getting it. Run that by me one more time:

Rex Reed, New York Observer:

“No longer waiting for orgasms, they’re waiting for menopause, and in all four cases, they’ve found it. No film has ever contained so many sloppy hairdos soaking wet from hot flashes.”

“Samantha (Kim Cattrall), still the group slut who has slept with every eligible man in Manhattan and half of Brooklyn without learning anything about real life in the Porthault sheets, brings a new face that looks like some of the sutures are still in it and her usual stinging one-liners.”

Tom Maurstad, Dallas Morning News:

“Like a plastic surgeon, storyteller King keeps trying to find new ways to lift and tighten his characters, but they have become garish caricatures of themselves. Each of the four central characters sounds and acts, at best, ridiculous at this point. And in the case of Samantha maniacally clinging to her swinger’s sex life and Carrie fussing and fuming about the settled state of her life with Mr. Big (Chris Noth), they now come off as unbelievably spoiled and unevolved brats.”

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone/ SFGate.com:

“In one scene, she seduces a millionaire businessman by simulating oral sex on a hookah pipe. Get real, folks. That would not impress any mature man worth his salt. If a man wants a woman who’ll behave in public like a 20-year-old prostitute, he’ll find an actual 20-year-old prostitute. “

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post:

“The more patronizing and self-important the movie becomes, and the more its protagonists come to resemble shrill female impersonators.”

Tell me how you really feel! I never thought I would see the day where reviewers from the mainstream media could be mistaken for The Filthy Critic. While I’ve only seen about 20 minutes of the first movie, and about 4/6ths of the series (admit it, you watched the finale, too!), I can concur with almost all of the criticism that has been thrust upon the direction of this franchise. The original message of the show was simple – no matter the massive variation of things that happened to the characters, whether it be encounters with guys bearing odd names like Big or encounters with guys bearing odd names like Mr. Pussy, they were going to conclude most episodes by meeting at some overpriced bistro for lunch – together. There were comedic deconstructions of day-today minutiae, and a grand appreciation for the wonders of urban life. I wasn’t a fan of Kristin Davis’ character, but the other three actresses had great comedic timing. There was great potential for the show to move towards a more intellectual realm, where the characters’ personal and mental growth would emerge as rich subject matter for Whit Stillman-esque dialogue (I’m imagining a run of Samantha puns connecting sex, philosophy and architecture). Unfortunately, the writers chose to grope for a more lucrative world of consumerism. Consistent friendships are pretty damn awesome, but they quickly lose their luster when replaced by references to product after product. In the 1980s, amidst the kudzu of easily-hated commercials, there sprouted an ad where a catalogue model gazes at the camera and demands, “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.” Within a week, “…Why should I hate you because you are beautiful, when there are soooo many other reasons…” quickly replaced the line about walking into a spider web (“Nobody sees it but you!”) as the ubiquitous joke of every comedian. In other words, why allow petty distractions occlude the substance of our frustrations?

There are a multitude of reasons to dislike a film. I never thought I would ever cite this publication in a positive manner, but the best summation of Sex and the City’s flaws are provided by Hadley Freeman of the The Daily Mail (what’s that? Imagine if US Weekly published a daily newspaper, and attempted to cover serious stories: “Today, former First Lady Laura Bush recruited dozens of volunteers to help her deliver care-packages in Haiti. But more importantly, did you see her clothes? I mean, really, did you, like, see what she was wearing?”).

“If this point about youth obsession now being de rigueur is not made clearly enough, behold the film poster, on which the four leads are so airbrushed not only do they not look like themselves, they don’t even look human.”

A large chunk of the media aimed at women is based on lies, especially fashion magazines with photographic post-production so extensive, they might as well put a cartoon character on the cover. Most recorded music marketed towards predominately-female audiences feature a similar airbrushing ethos on their covers, as well. So is it any surprise that the poster for SATC2 would follow the same obligatory template? After reading the above reviews, I cannot even imagine the resulting fervor if the actresses were portrayed au naturel.

It may say 2010 on your Gregorian calendars, but we still fetishize women’s youth to the level where it can be considered a religion. Despite an advertising industry’s demonization of the aging process that is so on-message that a 2004 Karl Rove would be in awe, women are strangely castigated for seeking that very youth. A 64-year-old actress dares to wear something other than a convalescent-home smock, or the 50-year-old Samantha character wants to remain a swinger, and it’s a damn scandal (had the internet existed amidst Rue McClanahan’s “Blanche” days, the reaction may have been even worse, so societal progress is not unprecedented). To steal a line from Steve Almond, critics’ quickness to bash the age and youthful ambitions of the characters serves to reveal where these writers max-out the credit cards of their talent.

I’ll admit that these Robin Leach-era infomercials masquerading as cinema deserve every conceivable bit of scorn for their tone-deaf attitude towards a society that has finally realized that the consumerist-based wing of capitalism just might not be all it’s cracked up to be (I apologize for repeating myself to everyone that might have heard my rants about Confessions of a Shopaholic, and its release amidst a period where American financial institutions were falling like dominos – thanks, Glass-Steagall repeal!). Outside of the unfortunate “men in drag” comment, BBC 5 Live’s Mark Kermode noted that several scenes depicted conspicuous consumption to the point of parody, such as Carrie’s disappointment in Big for purchasing her a flatscreen TV instead of expensive jewelry, leading her to retreat to her spare apartment (Kermode claims that such Gilded Age-antics make him want to sing The Internationale). Occasionally, the Patrick Bateman-approved recitation of brand names is interrupted to move along certain plot elements (I know that my love of films like High Fidelity and 24 Hour Party People feature characters obsessed with specific goods, but the records they love – and the knowledge of who recorded what, and what version – merely require intellectual curiosity and a friend with a dual cassette deck rather than hundreds of thousands of dollars), and yes, the theme of Friends Forever is still there. But the film’s message that feminism is congruent with the right to purchase ridiculously-expensive clothing and shoes instead of burkhas would lead the Pankhurst sisters to send their life savings to Ann Coulter. I get it.

So why does the critical community have to destroy the credibility of their words by taking potshots at the appearances of the actresses? Why are they only permitted to enjoy life’s pleasures (whether they be partying, sex, travel, whatever) during their youth? Do we really want a society where women are told “Alright, now that you are 50, cut off all your hair, throw away your favorite clothes, and forget about sex. You’re no longer a woman, you’re an old lady now!”

[correction – I wrongly attributed a quote to The Onion AV Club’s Genevieve Koski that actually originated in the review by Ella Taylor. The quote has been removed, and I apologize for the mistake.]

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2 Comments
  1. June 4, 2010 5:44 pm

    You make some very good points here, but I believe you’ve misquoted my review. The first part is indeed my words, but the second belongs with the Village Voice one above it. I made a concerted effort specifically to NOT snark on the characters’ appearance or age (the menopausal comment referred to an actual plot point in the movie), so I’d appreciate not being accused of such in this otherwise thoughtful analysis. Thank you.

    • T. Stump permalink
      June 5, 2010 1:23 pm

      Genevieve,

      You are correct about my misquoting of your piece. After rereading your review, I noticed your avoidance of any appearance-based critiques. Since your other quote indeed addressed a plot element, and only illustrated my point when I thought it referenced items in the VV review, I have removed it as well.

      Now, I will ask that you help me in the cause of killing the word “snark”.

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