It’s no surprise that the big screen Sex and the City movie captured the top spot at the box office this weekend—and, clocking in at almost two and a half hours (around the time it takes to watch half a season on DVD), those ticket-buyers certainly got their money’s worth, at least in terms of running time. Whether it was worth it quality-wise, is up for some debate, as the 54/100 Metacrtic score indicates.
I admit that I am not immune to big event movies, and I found myself in line this weekend with the rest of the fans. But I can’t say I was a follower of the TV show. I didn’t hate it, either. (Apparently, this is rare. You’re supposed to love or loathe Sex and the City.) The episodes were entertaining enough, but I couldn’t see myself hanging out with those women or anyone like them—I don’t really put much emphasis on fashion, and they never seem to go to the movies. We’re just not that into each other.
I came away from the movie with similarly lukewarm feelings. But, as Roger Ebert blatantly stated in the first line of his Chicago Sun-Times review (“I am not the person to review this movie.”), I recognize that the movie wasn’t made with me, a casual sometimes-observer of the show, in mind.
So I went to the pros—real movie reviewers, the kind who bravely take sides in the “like it” and “loathe it” camps—and found that their opinions didn’t sway me one way or another. They only increased my ambivalence. I found myself trying to argue with all of the reviews—positive or negative—especially when I saw words or phrases (such as “banshee” or “glittery” or “saucy”) and couldn’t tell if they were appropriate for a female-centric movie or legitimately sexist.
Some, like the New York Times‘s Manhola Dargis, complained that the movie was “vulgar, shrill, deeply shallow.” That’s true, and one of the major reasons I couldn’t always stomach the TV show. But aren’t people shallow and shrill in real life? And isn’t “shrill” a particularly gendered word, one you would never use in a movie about men? But is it okay to use such a loaded word in such a female-centric movie? After all, the four leads screamed with delight every time they found themselves in the same room together.
The praise was no less confounding. Take this quote from David Edelstein of New York magazine: “But what a hoot it is to see babes, for once, doing the objectifying—and talking dirty and sleeping around and measuring their fantasies against the sobering truth of male emotional insufficiency.” Should I really be won over by the prospect of female chauvinism? Is that something we as a female audience really want out of women-centric entertainment—objectification of men? If so, is it too much to ask that the movie show a little filmmaking craft, too, or should I just be placated by the full-frontal male nudity? (Brian Lowery of Variety seconded that thought, writing, “Thanks to Samantha, moreover, women also get to enjoy that rarest of cinematic moments—sequences that completely objectify men, for a change,” but again I wonder if that’s something I truly enjoy.)
Then there are gripes that men don’t get any meaty parts. “I haven’t carped about the smooth-FM music or the fact that the hetero men (Mr. Big semi-excepted) are nonentities,” writes Edelstein. Even Ebert, a reviewer I completely respect precisely because he roots for movies to succeed on their own terms, makes this observation about Mr. Big: “He’s so … passive. He stands there (or lies there) as if consciously posing as the Ideal Lover.” As a film fan, I know they’re right. The men are cardboard plot devices, not whole characters. But hasn’t this been true of women for most of cinematic history? Have you ever heard someone say, “I loved The Godfather, but Sonny’s girlfriends were only sex objects?”
It’s a conundrum I still haven’t worked out for myself. At times I’ve convinced myself that I didn’t like the movie because I’m sexist, and other times I think it’s just a bloated mess made by a TV director who doesn’t have enough talent to make his creation work on the big screen. I’m just really looking forward to The Dark Knight, which won’t saddle me with any of these problems.
Photo by Craig Blankenhorn/New Line Cinema