Smile Politely

Settling in the City: A Response to Sex and The City: The Movie

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen Sex and the City or do not want to know what happens, stop reading now.

As a devoted fan of Sex and the City, I eagerly awaited the release of a feature length film. I have seen every episode more than once and my friends and I felt a certain affinity to Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte. And even though we are middle class thirty-somethings and are more Payless than Prada, there is still a common bond between us.

What though, could we possibly have in common with a group of moneyed Manhattanites?

Therein lies the secret of Sex and the City.

Underneath the glossy veneer of designer labels and in-your-face sexuality, the girls shared a desire for meaningful relationships with romantic partners and friends who functioned more like family. Indeed, this quest for love and friendship was the one thing that always kept these characters real and relatable.

And it truly saddens me to say that on both counts, the movie failed miserably.

When Carrie tells us in her opening narration that she’s in “exactly the same place” with Mr. Big, she’s not kidding. Although it has been four years since Big told her “she’s the one,” they are just now searching for a place together. This apartment search frames the opening drama of the narrative. When Big decides to spring for a lavish penthouse that Carrie falls in love with, she is thrown into a perpetual “what’s-it-all-mean?” crisis.

Big’s solution?

To get married — and he asks her with all the nonchalance of asking someone out for coffee. But romance be damned, Carrie seizes her happy ending. With the help of her friends, a lavish reception for 200 guests is planned and she happily dons a gifted designer dress, finally embracing her elusive bride gene.

During all of this, Big is a little testy, protesting his embarrassment at the spectacle that is fast becoming his third wedding (though nobody ever mentions that it is Carrie’s first). A truly bitchy comment from Miranda finally sends Big over the edge. Ultimately, he jilts Carrie on their wedding day leaving her to flee the scene like a fairy tale gone wrong Cinderella, painfully and publicly humiliated. Carrie is unceremoniously thrust into a modern day grieving process that I sincerely doubt would be approved by Kubler-Ross. Carrie drinks and drinks some more. She sleeps. She dies her hair a dreary brown and has to hire Louise (Jennifer Hudson) to perform menial tasks like opening mail and unpacking boxes. Completely under-utilized, I found myself wishing Hudson could belt out “And You’re Going to Love Me” to rouse Carrie from her depression, but she is reduced to mere hand-holding.

The turning point comes when Carrie discovers a cache of e-mails from Big. Technically, these are love letters from “great men” recopied from a favorite library book of Carrie. This is supposed to mean something deep and emotional that I apparently missed. If somebody left me at the altar, it would take a whole lot more than some e-mails to win me back. I would have hoped the same for Carrie. But despite a year of reconstructing her life, Carrie immediately races off to reunite with Big and claim the crumbs of what is left of her happiness. Big tells her that he is sorry and she apologizes too. Carrie’s culpability? Perhaps she aimed too high. She tried to take a little piece of a fairy tale and got stuck with the poisoned apple. But it’s hard to feel sorry for Carrie when she insists on taking bite after bite.

The other girls’ storylines are equally infuriating, particularly that of Miranda. Miranda always was sarcastic, but here she is entirely unlikable. After a cringe-worthy sex scene when she tells Steve mid-act to “get it over with,” we learn that Steve has cheated on her. At this point, we can hardly blame him, especially when Miranda is all too eager to move back to Manhattan and have something real to bitch about. When she tells Big at the rehearsal dinner that he is “crazy” to get married, it is from this place of anger. But honestly, I cannot see a real girlfriend saying anything that potentially damaging. And when Miranda and Steve reconcile, I almost feel sorry for the guy, confident that the next time he forgets to take out the trash, he is going to be the recipient of Miranda’s relentless rage.

Sex and the City always was about empowering women. But there’s nothing empowering about allowing people to treat you badly and persisting in destructive choices. Carrie’s ending narration (and Big’s echo throughout the movie) about the importance of it being just the two of them (“just us”) isn’t romantic. It seems silly and selfish. Love cannot exist in a vacuum-sealed bag, cut off from the world. Because when you finally do open it up, its contents wilt and die. After this movie, so did some of my feelings for my old friends: Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha.

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