Cynthia Nixon, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall and Kristin Davis are back in Sex and the City 2.
Warning: the article below, and some of the articles linked within, may contain spoilers. Please read with care.
And now, please enjoy a sampling of the ways in which critics have thus far described Sex and the City 2: "a self-indulgent whimper"; "a sad, puffy mess"; "a home video of gay men playing with giant Barbie dolls"; "a stupid movie that's offensive to virtually everyone"; "an epic eyesore."
Rex Reed, in a neat bit of parallelism, oversells his own punchline the same way the show always used to by calling the second movie a literal piece of crap: "The only thing memorable about Sex and the City 2 is the number two part, which describes it totally, if you get my drift." And this is the kind bit of the review, which quickly becomes the sort of scathing-adjective acid bath usually reserved for torture porn and Megan Fox.
I have seen the movie, and I don't disagree with any of the assessments above. It's much too long, it's thoroughly unfunny, it's badly acted (Cynthia Nixon, given only scraps to work with, renders them at a single, brick-drill pitch of hysteria), it's shallow and vulgar, and everyone looks exhausted. (Well, Liza looks pretty peppy, all things considered, but she should put some pants on.) I can't tell you the movie isn't bad.
I can tell you that it doesn't matter. Sex and the City 2 is review-proof, in the sense that the poor critical response isn't going to hurt it much; it's an event, and many many ladies will strap on sky-high heels, pour pink drinks into flasks, and turn it into destination film-going with their girlfriends.
It's not that said ladies follow the Fab Four of the franchise, zombie-like, but rather that many of the problems the critics cite with the sequel date from the beginning of the show. I watched the entire series, but it frequently felt like a chore, between the wretched puns, the silent-movie overacting, and Carrie's twitchy/cutesy narcissism. None of that is new, and none of it mattered then, either, because, amid all the flabby wordplay and handbag fetishizing, occasionally, for a minute or two, Sex and the City would get it exactly right. It could nail a nuance or a tiny moment — Carrie shoving Aidan away and wailing that she can't breathe, Miranda eating cake out of the trash. Everyone can point to different sequences, but it struck chords, that show, even if, according to all the usual metrics, it kind of sucked most of the time. It spoke to people.
So, the sequel is also review-proof in the sense that reviewing it at all is completely beside the point. Sex and the City matters from a zeitgeist standpoint, and always has, but it's never had the firmest artistic foundation, and it ceased to function as an actual TV show or movie years ago. I saw S&TC2 in a movie theater, yes, but that's a coincidence; to approach it as a traditionally constructed film in 2010 is a mistake. It's entirely a brand now, and you can't really "review" a brand. You either buy it, or you don't.
Many people don't. Many people don't get it, or despise what they feel it stands for, and I understand those points of view. I also understand that film critics can't just throw their hands up and tell their editors, "It's like critiquing a weather event"; they have to review the movie as a movie. There is in fact a line between "this is just what Sex and the City does" and "this is in poor taste," and the sequel crosses it several times, which is worth noting, as is the fact that the "sparkle" so frequently punned on in the sequel seems to have gone out of the proceedings as a whole, replaced by a relentless glare.
But it doesn't make sense to straight-ahead review a movie that has become its own tie-in Happy-Meal toy. It's like a joke my brother told us years ago. "Why did the door go into the lightbulb? …Because of Care Bear." He then laughed hysterically for ten minutes. We could have told him he needed to fine-tune his delivery, or that it was too derivative of Steven Wright, I suppose, but he was four years old. We still tell that joke now and then, actually, decades later, not because it was ever funny, but because we love him. (Okay, it was a little funny.)
Maybe Sex and the City is soulless corporate product, and an endorsement of ugly Americanism and/or acquisitive lust; maybe the sequel is guilty of those sins and many others. Certainly it will lead to the sort of "men are from Mars" generalizing I can do without. But the movie is a part of the cultural conversation because, for a lot of people, Carrie and Miranda and Charlotte and Samantha became family, just like the characters became family for each other. Family has a lot of connotations, many of them tacky and tactless and infuriating — but imagine trying to review your family. Complain about them, sure; avoid seeing them, absolutely. Review them? Can't be done, and wouldn't change anything if it could be.
Sarah D. Bunting lives in Brooklyn. Because of Care Bear.