Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What Tami Said can save you $8: My review of "Sex and the City 2"

This is a guest post from the marvellous Tami, of What Tami Said.

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[Maybe there are spoilers in this review. I don’t think so. Frankly, I think there is nothing I could possibly do to make the shitfest that is Sex and the City 2 worse.]

Allow me to save you $8. Here is the plot of Sex and the City 2: Four privileged white women take a break from relentlessly moaning about their privileged lives to go on an Orientalist fantasy excursion to Abu Dhabi, where they are each assigned a brown servant to wait on them as they maraud through the country, dressed like assholes, exoticizing people, mocking culture, flouting religious custom, rubbing yams on their bodies and, on occasion, because they are our heroines, “saving” the natives with their American liberation and largess.

SATC was always only about a certain type of woman, despite media attempts to make Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte into everywomen. The series presented a fictionalized view of white, wealthy, female Manhattanites. But the friendships between the protagonists felt universal. And as cartoonish as the individual characters could be, I saw pieces of them in the women around me, if not in myself. When the show first debuted, I was single in the city myself:

When "Sex" debuted in 1998, I was single and 20-something in a big city and it was fun to watch single, carefree women, who lived in a bigger city with bigger apartments, cooler jobs, more money, better shoes and more sex with hotter guys. It was fun fantasy. Read more…

I got older. And so have the characters in SATC, but it occurs to me that the franchise’s male creators aren’t quite sure what to do with women over 40. And so they have taken four flawed but generally likable women and made them repugnant.

Two of the franchise’s characters seem emotionally stunted: Charlotte’s chirpy childishness—always a little icky—seems gross coming from a twice-married woman with two children. Carrie’s self-centered flakiness and drama-whoring is exhausting. Samantha and Miranda are unrecognizable—Sam having gone from an independent woman in charge of her sexuality to a desperate caricature fighting to hold on to her youth. (Note: Chris Noth, who plays Mr. Big, is two years older than Kim Cattrall, who plays Samantha. Interesting that Samantha is portrayed as fading, while Big still gets to be…well…Mr. Big) Miranda quits her job because the new partner at the firm is a sexist jerk. No fight. She simply gives up, which seems completely out of character.

Meanwhile, as the main characters go from iconic to pitiable, there exists a faux girl power thread running through the film. The protagonists even, inexplicably, sing “I Am Woman” in an Abu Dhabi karaoke club. SATC was never as feminist as it was made out to be. It sure as hell wouldn’t pass the Bechdel Test. But now it seems as un-empowering and pandering as a those pink “girl” computers by Dell.

Privilege on parade

The action in SATC 2 is more eye-roll inducing than relatable.

Charlotte, a full-time mom with a full-time, live-in nanny, snaps when her older daughter gets finger paint on the vintage couture skirt Charlotte is wearing while making cupcakes in her deluxe kitchen. Later, she and Miranda patronizingly offer a toast “to them,” mothers who don’t have help, that is.

Now that she has snagged her Mr. Big and is settled into a two-year marriage, Carrie, as ever, seems to want something else. She grumbles that the couple stayed in for dinner “two nights last week.” She kvetches when Big gets her a flat-screen TV for their anniversary, demanding diamonds instead. (Note to my husband, if he should read this: Our anniversary is next month, and, unlike Carrie, I would not give the side-eye to a flat screen.) She gussies up and goes out for dinner with her ex-fiancee. She escapes to her old apartment for two days, then pouts when Big suggests that maybe a weekly break is what their marriage needs. She is petulant and childish, then regretful and teary.

When Samantha, who is fighting off aging with pills by the bagful, drops her panties in her glass-walled office to rub some elixir on her vagina (Yeah, you read that right.), the movie viewer doesn’t relate to the difficulties of female aging, but rather feels sorry for her female assistant who has to work with her arrogant and clueless boss’ lady bits in her face.

Gays and brown people and Muslims…oh my!

The women of SATC spend very little time in their whitewashed New York City during this film. But they are there long enough to attend the wedding of Stanford and Anthony, friends of Carrie and Charlotte respectively, who have until this film hated each other passionately. The “girls” treat the marriage like the fortunate pairing of two accessories. “My best gay friend is marrying her best gay friend!” Charlotte pipes to a saleswoman, sliding the invitation to the GAY WEDDING toward her as proof. It feels incredibly othering. I wonder if the guests at my wedding favoured the staff at Marshall Fields with stories about their soon-to-be-betrothed “best black friends.” BLACK WEDDING…Whoooo!

But it’s when the fearsome foursome arrive in the Middle East when privilege, racism and ignorance meet in an unholy trifecta. Here is what we learn: All you need to know about Arab countries, you have already learned in “Aladdin.” If you have a Jewish married name, do not use it on a trip to Abu Dhabi. In an Arab country, be sure to wear expensive clothing reminiscent of the aforementioned cartoon. Two words—gold harem pants. Arab men are either frightening crazy-eyed religious fundamentalists or hot menservants. By the way, it is not at all creepy to accept the services of said hot, brown menservants+. Oh, and if one such manservant is gay…Jackpot! Two new accessories for the price of one! Refer to him as Paula Abdul. No woman ever follows the tenets of Islam by choice. All women who wear abaya or niqab are oppressed and secretly want to be white, wealthy, American women who wear revealing couture. Arab women who are not oppressed may be belly dancers in Western-styled nightclubs. It is feminist to travel to Muslim countries and expose yourself, simulate fellatio on a hookah, grab a man’s penis in a restaurant and possibly have sex on a public beach. If you are trying to communicate in an Arab country and cannot find the right words, saying “lalalalalala” will get your point across. It is always good to award your magical brown person with material gifts in exchange for their mystical wisdom, because they are, obviously “less fortunate.” (Last film, Carrie gives poor, black Jennifer Hudson’s character an expensive purse for her services. In this film, she leaves her poor Indian servant money to fly home to see his wife. People of color, on the rare occasion they appear in SATC, are never equals to the main characters.)

The movie is plain bad

Now, I am sure there are those who will say that I am thinking too deeply about a movie that is meant to be a bit of fluff. For you, I will share that SATC’s problems are not all about the portrayal of women, privilege, race or religion. Before any of those things pricked my nerves, I was already sighing at the films stilted dialogue, awkward group dynamic, hackneyed situations and corny jokes that beg for a sitcom laugh track. And then there was the spectacle of seeing Liza Minelli performing “Single Ladies.” Yes, Liza with a “z” sings Beyonce with a “B.”