Sex and the City 2

by Melissa Silverstein on May 26, 2010

in Movies

Over the last several days the reviews for Sex and the City 2 have been rolling in, and not surprisingly they have been scathing with a side of mean.  I stopped reading them when I saw the word “leathery” describe the women’s skin.

I actually think that people really get off on beating up on this film, and I can’t decide whether it’s because a gay man has made a pretty gay film that is for women, or because the film is for and about women that’s going to make a ton of money and no one gives a shit if a single straight guy goes and sees it.

But I am not in the haters camp.  I actually really liked the film.  I’m not going to tell you that it is not over the top.  It is and then some.  At times it borders on camp.  But then so does Glee and I love that too.

I knew what I was getting into so I went along with the ride.

I write on this blog a lot about how I want to see real women onscreen.  Now I’m not going to pretend the four rich white women in NY whose shoe and clothing budgets could feed a small country have anything to do with my everyday life.  They don’t.  I don’t even like the clothes (which felt too much this time) and I couldn’t walk even two steps in any of those shoes.

But that’s missing the point.  Underneath those frocks each woman is a composite of the real women in this country and the issues that we all deal with in our everyday lives.

Like Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) who worked her way up the legal ladder who has a new boss who literally puts his hand in her face and silences her when she is speaking in a meeting and thinks it’s ok.  Like Charlotte (Kristin Davis) who spent the entire series pining for a family and that family has turned out to be a nightmare of non stop crying.  Like Samantha (Kim Cattrall) doing everything she can to stave off aging.  And like Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) who is trying to figure out how to navigate marriage — and not having kids — in a world where having kids is just the norm.

I have to say I was very nervous about the whole middle east part of the movie from the trailer.  I just didn’t get it.  But what writer/director Michael Patrick King does is plop these four liberated women in the supposed “new” middle east, and what they discover very quickly is that there is nothing new about it when it comes to women.  The storyline in the middle east is mostly Samantha’s and it shows how a woman who has embraced her sexuality and freedom in the west is shamed for wanting that same liberation in the middle east.  Samantha actually gets detained for kissing a hot Danish businessman on the beach and while she is humiliated and loses her business opportunity all the while suffering from hot flashes in 90 degree heat, we see no consequences for the man she was kissing.

The movie brought to mind some issues I have been thinking about lately.  Why is it that gay men have become the purveyors of women’s stories?  Is there something more comfortable about a gay man telling women’s stories than women doing it ourselves?  Is it easier for Hollywood executives to write the check to a man for an obscene amount of money that they would never do for a woman?  It made me think about Mamma Mia, a movie written and directed by women.  That movie has made over a half a billion worldwide.  We know there are tons of Abba songs out there, yet no noise about a sequel.  Just makes me wonder.

When watching Sex and the City 2 I thought that a woman would never have made this movie.  She could never get away with it.  It’s not only a female fantasy, but it’s a gay male fantasy of women — that we all wear couture and three inch heels to take out the garbage.  Because it is a movie it has lost some of the bite of the series and I also think that the series benefited from having women’s voices as part of the writing.  They kept it grounded in some semblance of reality.

But this movie is not a hard look at reality.  It’s a summer escape movie just like all the movies that blow shit up.  You don’t think that guys who go see Iron Man have any expectation of becoming like Iron Man (except in their fantasies), just like I don’t expect to ever be able to fit in or wear a versace skirt. Women know this is not real, in fact 76% of the people (mostly women) who took a survey on fandango.com look at the film as a “great escape.”

But while it is an escapist movie, it is one that occasionally has some zingers about how women are treated in our culture.  I can’t seriously complain at a movie that could introduce a new group of people to Helen Reddy’s “I am Woman” which the ladies belted out in a karaoke bar in Abu Dhabi.  Bring on the versace t-shirts.

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist May 26, 2010 at 11:11 AM

I really don’t know why gay men are more “comfortable” telling women’s stories. Maybe because gay men still aren’t allowed to tell gay men’s stories? While gay rights and the LGBTQ community are slowly being accepted into mainstream society, there’s still a lot of homophobia in Hollywood and in the Bible Belt.

you’re right, this is an escapist movie. I’m so tired of Hollywood Elsewhere and other blogs bashing SATC 2 and accusing the film of glorifying materialism because this film is FOR WOMEN.

IRON MAN 2 and the Transformers movies are stupid, mindless garbage for guys to enjoy. Why can’t females have something mindless garbage to enjoy, too?

Holly May 26, 2010 at 11:53 AM

This is such a great post. I have been reading the reviews of Sex and the City 2 and like you, just couldn’t take it anymore. It seemed most of the reviews just wanted to focus on how “bad” the women in the movie looked. First of all, every woman in this movie, especially Kim Cattrall, looks amazing and I see no reason for people to beat up on this movie because they don’t like that women get wrinkles. Not surprisingly, we hear nothing about Chris Noth’s wrinkle ratio or if John Corbett’s eyes are too close together. I have always been a huge fan of the Sex and the City series and I loved the first movie and have been in giddy hysterics after seeing every trailer for the sequel. I’ve been beaten up for my love of this show by fellow feminists, but you got one thing right. The story of these women is a great escape. I also don’t think I’ll wake up one day and be able to fit in (or even be able to have my budget cover a percentage of) any of the fashion we see in the movie.

Scott Mendelson May 26, 2010 at 12:06 PM

The issue with critics is that they fail to understand that male escapism (Transformers, Iron Man, etc) is a whole different genre form female escapism (Dirty Dancing, Sex and the City, Twilight, etc). Generally speaking, male fantasies deal with selfish and shallow men who become selfless and save the proverbial day (think Iron Man or Die Hard). Sounds noble right? But many female fantasy films deal with already selfless women who are allowed to toss away their responsibilities and be as selfish as possible. So when critics trash the female characters in question as being shallow, selfish, and consumerist, they are 100% correct, but they are in fact criticizing the key component of the fantasy.

For those who care – http://scottalanmendelson.blogspot.com/2008/09/sex-and-city-movie-and-difference.html

c.a. Marks May 26, 2010 at 12:17 PM

Well said! I can’t wait to go see the movie, as an escape.

Kai Jones May 26, 2010 at 2:02 PM

So what’s up with the spam at the top of the page? I have flash and scripting turned off, and when I clicked through (link from twitter) this page shows up with your banner header and then a screenful of links to little blue pill sites. Did you get hacked? Or is the company or person doing your web work illicitly using your site? I have a PDF of the page if you want me to email it.

Chris May 26, 2010 at 2:07 PM

Regarding what Scott has written it’s an excellent and fair analysis however the male movie fantasy template described, which has forever been in existence in popular cinema, has alot more genuine weight to it in that once you throw away ‘the killing bad guys/getting the girl’ parts it’s about accepting responsibility and in a very direct way growing up… and that genuinely also used to be a feature of female driven popular movies until the DIRTY DANCINGs of this world eventually became THE stereotypical template governing a majority of pictures today.

GONE WITH THE WIND is a tale of a selfish, unlikeable woman, who through tragedy and conflict, learns some very important lessons and becomes a much better or self aware person as a result whilst both MARY POPPINS and THE SOUND OF MUSIC feature a selfless female character who, despite opposition, saves the broken families they come across.

Those examples above are given to highlight the fact that female starring movies very much used to portray their lead characters as heroic, in their own way, as male characters still regularly get the chance to be no matter how flawed their written. I’ve no problem with the female fantasy depicted in SATC as well as others nowadays but, irrespective of how well those movies do box-office wise, it’s limiting in that there’s nothing genuinely at stake and as a result that’s primarily why critics give these type of films more grief than their male cousins.

Jane May 26, 2010 at 3:08 PM

Melissa, I’m a frequent reader of your site and appreciate your points about the sexist coverage of this film–it really is hard to stomach. And yes, I would agree that despite the income issue, the women in the film are refreshingly representative of different kinds of realities that are so often left out in depictions of women (when there even are depictions of women that age!)

But I’m bummed by your analysis of the “middle east part.” I found it so offensive, I could barely make it through the film. For one thing, I just thought it was a completely irrelevant and inappropriate plot for the movie. I wanted to see a movie about four women dealing with/approaching middle age and how it affects their romantic and home lives (with a lot of pretty clothes thrown in). Somehow, though, the film was turned into an unnuanced east v. west (or American vs. Arab/Muslim) political piece that it had no business being. And it wouldn’t have been so bad if it was only a small part of the film, but it is actually the vast majority.

From the calling women wearing niqab “voiceless” to Carrie managing to compare herself to her butler (who, given what’s known about labor in the UAE, possibly can’t see his wife that often because he legally cannot leave the country: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/nov/16/gulf-states-asian-workers-rights), the film deals in bigoted tropes and exhibits an unbearable amount of ignorance about its setting. As a comedy (a “summer escapist” movie, it shouldn’t be required to deal with these heavy issues, but it sets itself up for criticism by choosing not only the location, but making overtly political statements about Muslim women and the rights of western travelers.

The latter of which is my last point: we’re supposed to be on Samantha’s side as she flaunts her “liberated sexuality,” and tsk tsk at the oppressive Abu Dhabi men who are offended. And in some respects that’s fine. There are lots of great discussions to be had about the dynamics of gender oppression in the Arab world. But again, this movie isn’t really the place for it, and the way it was presented made me, a very loud feminist who has in the past adored Samantha’s brashness, completely disgusted with the character’s behavior. These women were traveling, they were guests in another country. SATC has never been particularly smart about dealing with privilege, but I really resent being expected to sympathize with people who go to other parts of the world and don’t attempt to respect local custom, whether or not it jives with their personal politics. If it’s so offensive to your politics, don’t go there in the first place. I completely sympathized with Miranda, who spent the whole film trying to get the other women to put on their jackets/shawls. It’s not “our” world—we can’t, as Americans, just show up anywhere and expect to act however we want. Whether or not Samantha “should” have been detained for what she did isn’t the point—the whole attitude that leads up to her detainment is.

Melissa Silverstein May 26, 2010 at 6:49 PM

Jane-

Thanks for your comment. I totally understand where you are coming from. It just didn’t effect me that way but you are in the majority on this one and I am in the minority.

Lou May 27, 2010 at 7:41 AM

Thanks Melissa – I had not read any reviews yet as I was loathe to read a male critic tearing apart a film they very likely have no willingness to understand [though love the thought of it turning out like Mamma Mia, when the Guardian reprinted the one-star review given to it on the day after it smashed DVD sales records in addition to all the cinema ones].

Thanks also to Scott and Jane for the additional insight. (So true about part of female fantasy being putting aside responsibility and selflessness – I had never thought of it that way before.)

I’m curious as to how I’ll react to the parts set in the Middle-East now – in my visits there I have been careful of dressing in a more demure way than I would in the West, but I have also witnessed Western Women being harassed regardless of how demurely they are dressed. (Perhaps this could have provided a more interesting angle for the film to take?)

I went to the last SatC film expecting to loathe it and actually (mostly) loved it. (The scene about Samantha’s “fat stomach” almost ruined it entirely though.) Whether or not this one is great or crap, it’s about the only high-budget film about powerful women that we’ll get.

Lou May 27, 2010 at 8:03 AM

(err, to add to my above comment which I’ve realised comes across as overly simplistic: I was more meaning that it could be more interesting to explore the idea that it is the sexual objectification of women within western media that leads to harassment of western women, no matter what they’re wearing – not a simple case of scantily clad women bringing out sexist reactions from Middle Eastern men)

BrooklynShoeBabe May 27, 2010 at 4:20 PM

“…I can’t decide whether it’s because a gay man has made a pretty gay film that is for women….” “Why is it that gay men have become the purveyors of women’s stories? Is there something more comfortable about a gay man telling women’s stories than women doing it ourselves?”

These lines makes me very uncomfortable. It seems like a blanket statement in a sense that most of the so-called “chick flicks” that have come out have been directed by women. Also, why does a movie that features fabulous high-end fashion and shoes have to be a “pretty gay film?” It is almost making a 2-D stereotype of gay men in the same way that straight men stereotype women.

Recent Chick Flicks Directed by Women:
Just Wright directed by a woman
The Last Song
It’s Complicated

With that said, I’m sure the critics were extra harsh because these actresses are middle-aged and that the movie wasn’t made for their consumption. (It still doesn’t stop it from being bad, though.)

Ann May 27, 2010 at 5:54 PM

Seems like many (male) reviewers took offense to the line “Lawrence of my Labia”. Not the greatest line I’ve ever heard, but it made me chuckle.

Also a nice change from the gazillion dick jocks movies are littered with (and that male critics NEVER seem to complain about or get tired of).

Stephanie May 27, 2010 at 8:00 PM

I really like this post. I saw the movie 2 days ago and enjoyed it. Its not the series, isn’t as nuanced and its hard in 1 movie to give 4 main characters adequate exploration of their journeys/struggles. But-compared to the first film-which seemed to me 2 b another movie abt a woman being jilted by a man and being sad afterwards-this movie-while in a world of incredible fantasy and opulence-touched on/acknowledged the more realistic struggles of women-independent, smart, individuals attempting to attend to/nurture their own needs and desires while at the same time attending to/nurturing their children and relationships. The middle eastern plot may not have been the strongest choice-why not stay in NYC and actually explore these struggles….the average woman doesn’t get to jet off to a fantasy to escape…but at the same time the escape creates the opportunity to explore their individuality in contrast to the relationship people they have become. And perhaps that’s a reason for the middle east-the escape/the foreign land forces the only single girl-Samantha to struggle in a place where who she is and who she is expected to be/must be to stay afloat are at direct odds…..

Enough analyzing. I liked it-it was full of beautiful things, its a fantasy of a loving, supportive, community of friends who get you, beautiful men, loving men, beautiful clothes, beautiful places, and adventure.

Lets not be so serious. Its eye candy.

Andrea May 27, 2010 at 9:05 PM

What a great post, Melissa.

I thought this was an interesting (and brave) point: “Why is it that gay men have become the purveyors of women’s stories? Is there something more comfortable about a gay man telling women’s stories than women doing it ourselves?”

I haven’t seen SATC 2 yet, but I saw the first, and was struck by how obvious it was that it was a gay man’s take on women, and how he just didn’t “get” women. It was so different from the cable series, but our attachments to the characters, and the storylines from that wonderful series is why we are willing to see these movies despite the poor “doesn’t get us” writing.

After I saw the first SATC movie, I highly doubt that the cable episodes were written primarily Michael Patrick King, though he is credited for writing most of them. I think he was smart enough to let women write the bulk of those scripts. If he so doesn’t “get women” in his movie scripts, there’s just no way that previously he did “get women” with such subtlety. Just didn’t happen. He couldn’t have been so right on (in many ways, though not everything), and then become more or less clueless. Many examples, the wedding plot the main one. Just briefly, is it really women’s idea of escapism, or fun, comedic recognition, to see the hero marry a guy who is too cowardly to cancel a wedding when he thinks its a bad idea, and instead abandon his beloved at the last minute, leaving her to be humiliated in front of friends and cameras? The lesson being that she was just too materialistic, etc, about the wedding? And that the fanfare with beautiful gowns, etc, just isn’t in line with “real core values” and genuine love? (though handbag obsession is… ??) This plot might fulfill some men’s fantasy about men’s right to female forgiveness, but I don’t think it caters to women’s idea of fulfilling movie-watching.

As for “Muslim Anarchist”‘s point about gay men defaulting to women’s stories because they don’t have permission to tell gay men’s stories to the mainstream — women are not gay men’s default. We are not your alter egos. We are our own complex population, and we include butch lesbians. Just saying: are gay men interested in writing about butch lesbian culture for mainstream Hollywood since they can’t write about their own culture? MA’s point actually underlines the point that these movie characters (based on the much better characters of the series) are gay men’s projections, not genuine representations of women and women’s culture.

As for Jane’s point, it sounds like there is some cultural insensitivity in the movie, but what strikes me as especially insensitive is a trivialization of the very grave oppression of the women in the Middle East, which is in every sense a form of fascism (just imagine men being treated that way by law, and the point becomes obvious). So I actually disagree with your objection in a sense then, because I feel like your insistance on a reductive “cultural sensitivity” is in fact even more insensitive to women’s political condition than what it sounds like the movie did. I wonder, what would the millions of women of the ME (and I don’t mean the ME professors in the US who have a scrap of freedom and know how to keep it, but the hundreds of millions who don’t have a scrap of freedom) benefit more from — a movie showing the arrest of a woman for kissing and expressing her own sexuality, or the silencing of any such criticism, and not offering any criticism whatsoever, just bowing the head respectfully to explicit fascism excused as “cultural difference”? I think the oppressed women of the ME don’t benefit from the latter. This is where, in my opinion, “politically correct” becomes an act of oppression, even if the intention might be otherwise.

Linn D. May 28, 2010 at 12:26 PM

(Full disclosure- I loved the tv series) I loved this movie! Is it perfect? Of course not, but it’s damn good in my opinion.

For those who are upset by the middle east story line, have you stopped to consider that more people watched the midnight showing of this movie on Wed. night than have probably watched any of the numerous documentaries on this subject? Remember, only the court jester could tell the king the truth without fearing his head cut off. Laughter is the best way to tell someone “tough news” sometimes…

I bet this is the first time some people have really stopped to think about this, that is, visually seeing the contrast of womens’ roles in the world. If just one person starts googling and reading up on this, isn’t that a good thing?

And for those who were appalled by Samantha’s behavior, have you ever traveled outside the US in tour groups?? Sadly, there are tons of tourists who are not concerned with other culture’s norms. And it made perfect sense that Miranda, the professional negotiator, would be the one to keep an eye on things.

I agree with Melissa, that underneath the clothes and handbags this is a great story about 4 women. One is struggling with a committed relationship, once all the “newness” wears off. (i.e., the honeymoon is over) I personally am struggling with that right now! One is dealing with being a mom of 2 young children, and the guilt of not always liking being a mom. One is dealing with a crappy job and balancing that with being a mom. (and her trying not to feel guilty b/c she likes working!) And one is dealing with how her body is betraying her as she gets older. And as an athletic woman who at 38 is finding my body is changing no matter how well I take care of it, I empathize with that!

I loved the obstacle that Samantha is given, her very essence and nature – literally breaks the law. Forcing her to embrace who she is and continue to accept herself, menopause and all. (Even if “everyone else” doesn’t always like it) I think it was kind of brilliant to put the women in this situation, that is, the middle east. I did NOT get it from the trailers, but seeing it played out- it made perfect sense.

I actually think this movie may be a little better written than the last one. Kudos to all invloved. Well, okay, Ms. Patricia Field, the costume designer, may have gone a little crazy. Ms. Field, may I respectfully remind you that when I’m busy trying to figure out when they had time to change outfits, much less how not to hurt themselves, it’s a little distracting. I’ll give you creative freedom on what they wear, no matter how nutty your stuff may be, but at least can you give me the logic of when they leave the hotel and then come back they are still in the same outfit? Please? Thank you. Peace out.

Vevlyn Wright May 28, 2010 at 1:47 PM

Dear Melissa:

Hello … We met last year at More Mag’s reinvention convention.

Just wanted to check in to say that you and I are on the same page with some of the observations about “SATC 2.” The only point on which I may be inclined to part ways only a bit is around the gender issue. As you stated with Mamma Mia, a film written/directed by a woman can make loads of dough, too. I don’t believe it was intentional to pluck a man to do the writing/directing.

As you rightly state, more than anything the film is a gay man’s ode to women. Only a gay man could imagine these women as perfect and fabulous. Actual women know better and virtually none can achieve it. But it’s all in good fun. Alas, too few critics are reviewing the film from that prism.

See my comments on the film if you wish:
http://vevlynspen.blogspot.com/2010/05/sex-in-city-2.html

Cheers,

Vevlyn Wright
VEVLYN’S PEN

Madge May 28, 2010 at 2:09 PM

This is by far the best thing I have read on the sequel. Thank you Melissa. I would love to see this get onto the Huff Post and a few other websites.

Harriet Margolis May 28, 2010 at 7:49 PM

Just an historical note: There was a time during the studio era’s heyday when gay men regularly directed Hollywood’s “weepies.” Feminist film studies from the 1970s and 1980s discussed this phenomenon. Perhaps someone who’s studied film history more recently could remember directors’ names and film titles? Edmund Goulding is one director, but I’m blanking on the others generally mentioned.

Adam June 2, 2010 at 4:00 PM

A movie about four boys who cannot grow up to become men, who in fact revel in their boyish immaturity without a believable conclusion that results in growth, would be unwatchable. I found SATC2 to be a gender-ed version of the above.

“Women should be allowed to watch and enjoy stupid shit like Transformers 2″ seems much the thrust of this post. OK. Fine. You can. But Transformers 2 was still stupid shit that held a mirror up to the worst excesses of male American culture. This is a movie that holds said mirror up to the worst excesses of female American culture. It didn’t seem to satirize unthinking privilege, excess, materialism and cultural insensitivity. It seemed to glorify all of the above.

The very few positive responses I’ve read to the movie offer a confusing mix of justifications for their love of SATC2: it is, on the one hand, ‘just’ escapism; on the other an insight into the life of the modern American woman.

If such is the case, then the message this movie sends is said woman is caught in the screaming wind tunnel of her own self pity and self image. And she is unapologetic of being that way; in fact, she loves being that way. It’s genuinely hard to watch. When Charlotte and Miranda toast mothers without servants, I thought, “God, they stormed the Bastille the last time this happened.”

Women: you have the right to idiotic escapist fantasy. But you also have the right to the vitriol that will be directed at such fantasies.

Linda June 3, 2010 at 2:10 PM

Well said, I have to agree that while I know these four women (upper class white women from NY city) aren’t exactly mimicking the same lifestyle that most of the women who will go see SATC 2, we can’t help but love them.

The struggles they find themselves in, during the first movie as well as the series rang true for most of us that watched the characters.

I haven’t seen it yet, but your review is what I was hoping to read about the film.

Buford-Terrelle Hubbard June 8, 2010 at 9:35 AM

Finally, someone said I what I have been saying since the tv show first aired in 1998. It’s an escape! An escape from the reality of our own lives, to live vicariously through the characters, Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte. Melissa, I love what you wrote, how you worded it and the fact the you admitted, like I have to, some parts were over the top, out of sync and a bit campy; but hello, if Stanford & Anthony were ever to get married, in my head the movie gave me the wedding I imagined.
I have to say Samantha, who I could never be like, but I know over a hundred women & men who are just like her, was my favorite this go round. Not for the two hot guys she bedded, but for how honest she displayed her obsession with not letting menopause get the best of her. I felt that part was real, because when my aunt who rasied me was going through it, she acted out in some of the same ways Samantha did. I love how Miranda finally said screw it, to a job that she wanted more than anything & never said no to. I love how she showed up for her son, because many mothers, single & married, who have jobs often feel like her, I never can make it to see my child do this r that. Charlotte & Miranda’s cosmo confessional was my other favorite part. They represented for mother’s all over and I love their toast to the single mothers, who do it by themselves and make it work.
MPK, could have cut the whole nanny plot out. I am sure other fans will agree, we can not handle another one of our guys being a cheater. We love Harry as the not so perfect husband but best match for Charlotte.
This all being said, I think gay men can relate to women in a way that other female directors/writers in Hollywood are afraid too. What makes me most upset about all the scathing reviews, is that when the Hangover came out, no one, not even Mr. Ebert had a negative thing to say about how over the top, raunchy, naughty and crude it was……I loved it as well; but as a gay man, I was like some of it was borderline offenseive for comedic affect. SATC2, did just the same but in a more feminine way. Only difference the Hangover boy’s were in Vegas, were I guess that type of behavior is warranted and our ladies were in the middle east. I think what scared most male movie critics and some female ones too, is that SATC2, went there. The crotch shots, the Samantha’isms, the not so tamed approach at being overtly sexual even in the middle east, the gay wedding that got even gayer when Smaantha bedded the hottie, the braless nanny who turned out to be a lesbian, the kiss heard all around the world..that in reality would have sent Mr. Big into the arms of another; but not this Big, he stood by Carrie, like most men do, a kiss, is only a kiss. I will end my comment with, why in all of the countries in the world did Carrie have to run into Aiden? To me they had resolved their history. To me MPK, should’ve had Petrovsky be the one, that way Carrie could have shown him, what he was missing, just saying, here’s wishing for a third installment.

pandora uk December 1, 2011 at 3:31 AM

You had some nice points here. I done a research on the topic and got most peoples will agree with you

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