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The Sorrow and the City

Sex and the City

It must be quite reassuring for producers to make a movie based on a popular TV show. It’s pretty much a sure-fire success. Provided the original show is not too long forgotten (*cough* The X-Files) and you can get enough of the show’s original cast involved you’re more or less guaranteed a huge box-office draw.

Take this film for example. It was based on a show that was not only popular, but managed to change the culture of its time. It changed the way people talked, the way people consumed and what people did with their spare time. Those who didn’t watch it and didn’t want to watch it were utterly aware of its existence and knew it couldn’t realistically be avoided. There’s no doubt it was a phenomenon.

The film could exist because the show made its fans cry out for more. Even if the film could win no new viewers, at least the fans would come in droves. The film was thus utterly critic proof.

Everything about the show made the film a good idea, right down to the characters portrayed in it. The lead is confident, even arrogant at times, but there’s an endearing quality on show that wins viewers over. Then there are the three best friends; the sex-mad one, the feisty, sarcastic redhead and the cute adorable one who, no matter what people claim is really everyone’s favourite. Yes, from the very get go, Pokémon: The First Movie was always going to be a hit.

What? You thought I was talking about something else? Fine then. If I must.

So I finally allowed the opposite sex to drag me to see Sex and the City just as it was disappearing from the cinemas. However, I had rather atypical reasons (i.e. other than my being male and straight) for being apprehensive. It was not just the modest reviews and overwhelming box office gross that made me cautious. I didn’t want it to undo the good that had already been done.

Yes, that’s right, I like Sex and the City. It’s a good show. At the best of times it was a very good show. Unrealistic it was, but there was enough sass and attitude on display, dressed up in colourful and (I can only assume) “fabulous” designer decor that it stood out from all other comedy and drama shows. HBO’s use of real locations instead of constant sets made the show a visual breath of fresh air. Very often plots seemed to be written around a climactic pun, but the plots were fine and the puns were funny. Sex and the City was, and reruns still are, perfectly entertaining viewing.

So what about this film then? Well it’s not as bad as some have suggested. The problem is that given the budget, the length and the hype this should have been essentially “the best episode ever”. But it’s not. It might just about make it into the top 10.

Sex and the City: The Movie is surprisingly low on jokes, and overbearingly high on drama. Sex and the City was a funny show. This is not a funny film. The wit that was half the appeal of the TV series has been replaced with obvious gags – leg waxing humour, what can women dress as for Halloween humour, dogs having sex humour – with the only laugh out loud moment, when prissy Charlotte soils herself, seeming more at home in a Farrelly brothers screenplay. The event is later mentioned again as if to say “come on, laugh once more at the one joke we’ve offered you”. It’s a harsh criticism to throw at the film, but since the show was funny, one expects the film to follow suit.

However, the actual emotional drama on show, notably Carrie’s never-ending suffering with Mr Big but most evident in Miranda’s break-up with Steve, may in fact be stronger than what was on display in the series. There’s a lot of heartfelt stuff going on; regardless of how obnoxious you may find the characters, you can’t help but feel sorry for them.

Of course, the show was always able to balance the four characters between episodes; two would have emotional crises while the other two would have amusing sexual/relationship hi-jinks. Here, over nearly two-and-a-half hours, there are three emotional crises and one boring pregnancy. This is part of the reason Sex and the City: The Movie fails; it’s really, really grim.

Carrie, Miranda and Samantha all go through hell for 140 mins (not just 35 as we were once accustomed to) before everything turns out ok in the end. Regardless of how happy the ending is, it’s all a bit heavy for light entertainment. It may be ambitious, but it’s a bit dull, and if it isn’t dull for some, they can hardly call it life affirming. Sex and the City was a show that brought people out of slumps and cheered them up, here we have to see Carrie so emotionally demoralised that she has to be spoon-fed yoghurt. It’s enough to make every single and spoken-for woman on earth throw themselves off the nearest available precipice. Most of the men might as well too out of sheer guilt.

Miranda and Steve’s relationship issues are a great story unto themselves; by the resolution of their subplot we can mostly agree that both had faults, both have suffered and both will be happier staying together. It’s not exactly profound but it does the trick. In between, however; OH THE MISERY!!! Miranda, like Carrie, cries and cries and cries. They cry with one another, they cry alone, they cry and scream at their lovers. It’s all just far too heavy.

Samantha’s story is even worse, as she regresses to a character she was before the show finished and seems happier that way. Her perfect love story falls utterly flat, as she (allegedly, I saw no signs of it) gets fat due to being miserable with her more successful boyfriend. As she repeatedly teleports across America to see her friends, we’re left praying she’ll just shut up and stay there, so she can be happy, we can have less misery dumped upon us and we no longer have to have that scene where the girls all scream because Samantha has suddenly appeared in New York, for like the eighteenth time.

Charlotte meanwhile is too lovely to have sad things happen to her. Everything goes lovely for her. Unfortunately it is really dull and we see practically nothing of it. Worse still, the show’s best character, Charlotte’s husband Harry, is inexcusably absent throughout most of the film. Sex and the City no longer wants us to have fun.

Yes, in the end everything works out for close to the best, even for the token Oscar winner (see what I did there?) who finds dull love with her dull first boyfriend back in her dull home city. But as Carrie narrates about important love and friends are, we suddenly realise we’ve been here before. The ending is pretty much the same as that of the TV series.

Wait a second! After all that, 140 more minutes of not first rate TV, we’re right back where we left off? Carrie is with Big (does it matter that they’re married now?), Miranda is with Steve, Charlotte has just got a baby, Samantha is sassy and carefree. We went through all that just to end up exactly as we were back in 2004, if not slightly worse off?

Nope, it’s true, after all this time things are not as good as they once were, and we’ve gone through boring emotional hell to get there. No amount of Carrie’s pseudo-philosophical pap can disguise what is essentially a tragic ending disguised as a happy one.

Every story should serve its purpose, and since this film makes the TV series’ finale less truly happy than it seemed four years ago, one gets the sense that the film serves no function other than to make money. Where has the city gone? New York was once a character in this show, now it’s all set indoors or in Mexico. All direction has been lost in order to make the film essentially on the cheap (the Mexico scenes in particular look like they might as well have been filmed on Long Island). Indeed, the fashion shoots and fashion shows that litter this picture serve no purpose as their equivalents did in the TV series, they are just time-wasting distractions that beg you to remember happier times.

And they were happier times. It was a happy fun show. But it grew up, and when it did, it finally stopped being interesting. That’s the saddest part of all.


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