Sex and the City: The Movie (official site) is out on DVD and Blu-ray today. When I press my ear close to my monitor, I can hear the squeals of delight from the millions of fans who formed lines around the block to make this Marketing department's dream one of 2008's biggest pop, if not critical, successes. For that focus group this isn't just any must-get, it's a "Yes! OMFG!" * accessory as prized as a Louis Vuitton handbag.
When the movie played in the theaters earlier this year, I never "got" the whole Here-it-is, I-can't-wait, can't-keep-still, I-just-died-and-went-to-Prada excitement I witnessed among numerous female friends, coworkers, and strangers in the street. What the hell? These were women who had rolled their eyes when I and my fellow guys punched the air during the previews for Iron Man. Now here I was wondering if estrogen was the secret to solving our nation's energy crisis. But while watching this DVD last night with my wife, E -- who as a twentysomething Manhattanite was at various times her own version of Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and, yes, Samantha -- I had an epiphany. Hang on, I'll come back to that in a minute.
Although not religiously devoted to the TV show, we've watched it singly and together over the years and enjoyed it, impressed often by the deft writing as well as its topical envelope-pushing (and, yeah, its bipartisan eye candy). Still, Sex and the City never quite became "destination" TV at our house. So last May, when E and some of her girlfriends dived like Olympic gold medalists into the "experience" of Sex and the City: The Movie at the local cineplex, I looked at her with a "Since when have you been putting Neil Diamond on your iPod?" look.
She responded with her patented "This is sushi, so no you can't put barbecue sauce on it" raised eyebrow. Then she said three words that make men shrink and shrivel like a cold rainy day: "You wouldn't understand." Because she's been around the Monopoly board a few times, she then gave me a flirty kiss since she knows how much men hate "You wouldn't understand."
Now there I was, watching the DVD with her on the couch in our home theater space -- a.k.a. The Temple of Dude -- eager to understand.
As writer-director Michael Patrick King says on the DVD's "Extended Cut: Two-Disc Special Edition," here's a movie that's the dessert after the main course of the TV series. Indeed it feels like a product whisked by a staff of Hollywood confectioners, whipped up with air and sugar and yolkless egg whites, then poured into its precision-cast mold to be consumed and enjoyed by its ready-made audience. And like taking a trip to New York's Chocolate Bar, you won't even step inside the door if all you think about are the empty calories on display.
"So what is it you see in this movie?" I asked during the opening credits, when the familiar pizzicato notes of the TV show's bouncy theme tune arrived. She had told me that, in the theater, the audience had exploded with cheers and applause at those notes.
"Oh, that's easy," she said. "Just watch."
And so we watched the familiar ultra-fab, stylish foursome, now a few years older but otherwise exactly where we left them:
There's producer and star Sarah Jessica Parker back as Carrie Bradshaw, finally able to plan her dream wedding -- plus a vintage
Cinderella palace penthouse apartment -- with her longtime sometimes-soulmate, the handsome but commitment-phobic Mr. Big (Chris Noth). There's no story here without heartbreak, and the plot turns on Carrie's heart getting shattered from Manhattan to Mexico before the half-way mark. ("The whole movie is about," said E, "women who shape their lives around men. Watch: when Carrie follows her own choices, things go badly. When she ultimately capitulates to Big, all ends well." I said, "And you find this a good thing?" "Oh, no," she said. "But I find it fascinating.")
Kristin Davis, still winsome and adorable and looking a fit 25 in spite of the facts ("I must start running again," responded E), is sweet cipher Charlotte. She gets everything she wants but first must endure the movie's infamous Montezuma's Revenge scene. (I turned to E. "What was the point of that scene?" She replied, "To be funny." "Was it?" "Not particularly, no. But you owe me one for Superbad.")
And naturally -- after some pre-production difficulty -- the show's diva, Kim Cattrall, is back as Samantha, now a big-money L.A. player with her Malibu TV-star boytoy Smith, still played by Jason Lewis. (E apparently sees something I don't in their big Valentine's Day blowup scene, the one where Samantha lays herself out naked, adorned only in strategically placed sushi and fishbone high-heels, waiting for hunky Smith to come home and feast his eyes and other parts. "He is so cheating on her," E says. "Any man who comes home hours late on Valentine's Day and brings only a box of chocolates? Please." If Smith is fooling around it's not spelled out in the movie, but I make a mental note of that deductive reasoning.) Can Samantha, who turns 50 in the movie, finally settle into the monogamy thing, especially when she's reminded of her former lifestyle by the gorgeous Italian beefcake having nightly serial sex next door? She has her own revelation on that point, and she takes self-determined and self-knowing action accordingly. ("And that's why," says E sagely, "out of all of them, she's the only one who's worth a damn.")
Her critical comment surprises me, as she is nonetheless getting a kick out of the movie, just as she did at the local Regal with her friends back in May.
She catches my questioning look. "Just watch," she repeats.
So the movie sprockets through its chiffon-thick romantic-dramatic crises and by-the-book setbacks. Its plot requires its participants to react and move on to the next scene with such mechanistic predictability you'd think Carrie's clichéd fussy wedding planner (Mario Cantone) had put it together. ("You don't watch movies like this to be surprised," E says at one point. "You watch to see your expectations fulfilled." I nod, "Okay." She pokes me. "Sound familiar?" she asks. I don't know what she means, yet.)
As we watch, we agree that, compared to the warmth and freshness of the TV show, the movie feels cold and overly calculated. And at two-and-a-half hours, way too padded for its hour's-worth of story. Never mind that any movie trying to pass off the line "fairy tales do come true" with a straight face is asking for raspberries.
But then we get scenes like the helicopter glamour shots of Central Park ("Let's move back to New York," we say in unison, not for the first time during shots like that) and perky Jennifer Hudson making a welcome just-passing-through turn as Carrie's new assistant. She too finds happiness (or, depending on your point of view, gets thrown under the bus of romance-movie obviousness. "Why couldn't he move to New York to join her new life?" E asked. "And yes, that's a rhetorical question").
Then bam! there it is. The reason E and her friends and seemingly half the women in America got dressed to the nines, hung out the "No boys allowed" sign, and made this movie a hit. The restaurant scenes. The two fashion-show scenes. The try-on-all-our-old-'80s-outfits-OMG scene. "It's the girls," E says, leaning forward and making her case like a guest-star attorney on Law & Order. "These four best friends just hanging out with each other, allowing themselves to be girls. How often do we get to see that in the movies?"
You can accept, she said, the plot contrivances as prefabricated as Lego blocks. You believe these characters even though, no matter what happens to them in the story, they're ultimately as unchangeable as Hummel figurines. You put up with how often the script aims for lazy laughs rather than wit or cleverness. You go along with the Vivienne Westwood wedding gowns and $500 shoes and all the other label name-checks that are part of the movie's fundamental appearance-is-everything ethic. You willingly take all the movie's pink and sparkles that exist in our fantasies more than our realities. In fact, E emphasized with another poke, you wouldn't have it any other way -- "because at the heart of it all are the scenes with these women and the bond they share, being who they are by being together. The women have their friendship and that is their strength. The men aren't, no matter what the rest of the movie tries to sell us. That's what makes it all work in spite of itself, and why women made it such a big deal."
Then she added, "Sound familiar?"
The acceptance of sparkly fantasy ... a close-knit handful of beloved and unchanging characters behaving in expected ways in a plot that offers no disturbing surprises ... the fans who show up wearing outfits inspired by the TV show ... the shout-outs of delight when the opening music we've heard for years comes from the screen ...
I had my epiphany. Rather, as is typical, she was a step ahead of me.
"Yes," she said. "It's Star Trek for women."
Looking around the Temple of Dude, with the Wrath of Khan movie poster and the DVD shelf devoted to thirty-plus years of another highly marketable TV franchise, at last I understood. I so, so understood.
New Line Home Video brings the movie home in several options. The single-disc DVD edition has just the movie and writer-director Michael Patrick King's (rather dull and obvious) commentary track. The two-disc Special Edition has that plus 12 extra minutes of footage, four minutes of deleted scenes (with optional commentary by King), a sit-down chat between Sarah Jessica Parker and King, a short conversation with Fergie about her music contributions, "The Fabulous Fashion of Sex and the City," and a digital copy of the film for downloading. The Blu-ray edition holds all that plus more deleted scenes and other chocolatey extras.
* Only Made For Girls (Return)