3 min

Revisiting the City

It’s a tribute to the characters and the actors who play them that the Sex and the City movie is as good as it is.

You’d think by now that the Sex and the City franchise would be one of those worn-out things — like Madonna and the Rolling Stones — that’s more fun to read about than to actually view. And it’s true that I did enjoy Emily Nussbaum’s prelaunch profile of Sarah Jessica Parker in the May 12 edition of New York magazine more than the movie itself.

But the movie did manage to squeeze a tear or two out of me, which is quite an accomplishment considering the flick’s many flaws — clumsy exposition, embarrassing product placement and clashing costumes, to name just a few.

What it didn’t make me feel was very gay. Remember that old canard about how the series was nothing but a disguised description of gay men, the obvious evidence being Samantha, since no one woman could possibly be that slutty? Well, clearly the word didn’t get out. The day I saw the flick the audience was a sell-out sea of middle-aged, not particularly stylish straight women.

I squeezed into one of the last remaining seats, feeling conspicuous by my gayness, and wondered why so many women were there. With the exception of the baby close-ups they’d didn’t coo on cue and often laughed where I suspect they weren’t supposed to. It’s true the film laid on the romance with a trowel and everything ends happily ever after, but the route to happily ever after was sufficiently circuitous as to suggest difficulties ahead. I imagine that more than a few viewers may have felt uncomfortable with the ending. Nobody applauded at my screening — and I fully expected them to.

Maybe they were on to the con — the offensive way the film treated them, and even worse their beloved heroines, as if they were living in the 1950s.

For six years the TV series explored the outer edges of urban sexual anxiety. Not just the characters’ many semineurotic but very believable hang-ups about sex and penises and anal sex and all the rest of it, but the many casual cruelties people inflict on each other in their quest to meet their own needs. Remember the big shot who picked up Charlotte and wooed her with his Ross Bleckner painting and was happy to honour her code of no-sex-on-the-first-date, but also announced that he was off to a club to get laid, because he needed it? That guy wasn’t evil, just typical and typical in a way that hadn’t been seen before on TV.

Well, there’s none of that in the movie. The sex scenes are woefully unerotic, people banging away (for the most part) with their clothes on or in frigidly static positions. And the romance plays second fiddle to the clothes.

Worse, the social codes seem set in half-century-old stone. As a TV show Sex and the City worked the tension between the old and new. With the exception of Charlotte, who embodied the 1950s wife-in-training, all the characters wanted more from relationships than the conventional norms allowed, but they weren’t quite sure what and their doubts about relationships and what they could and could not expect is what gave the series snap and spice.

The film, on the other hand, questions nothing — except perhaps the perennial brain teaser, why aren’t men more like women? — and all doubts are laid aside. As the story opens all four of the characters — Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda — are in their 40s and coupled off, and their biggest problem is not, as you might expect, age or failing sexual allure or fading compatibility, but micromanaging their relationships.

The women know what they want and what they want is marriage and monogamy. Even randy old Samantha can’t think of any way to make a dull relationship work except the entirely black-and-white solution of either monogamy or dissolution. Worse, her extramarital desires are played for laughs.

There are lots of good things about the movie, chief among them the women’s enduring friendships. They’re so supple, firm and complex that they make the show’s seriously underwritten romantic relationships look like what they are, a sop to an iron-clad convention that died long ago.

In fact, despite the de rigueur huffing and panting, the movie reminded of nothing so much as the dated and very 1950s Hitchcock confection Rear Window where the romantic trajectory was cast in stone — from the minute James Stewart sees Grace Kelly — and the only suspense lay in wondering what costume Kelly would wear next. Except that she had better clothes and we weren’t forced to know the labels.