WARNING: If you haven't seen SATC2 and don't want to know the plot, don't read on.
When preparing for this liberal SATC-bashing, I did a little photo search for some suitable image to punctuate it with. Despite wording 'Sex and the City 2 movie images' every way I knew how, it seems that even the internet is in revolt over the film, with not a single image on the first page being from the new film.
I suppose it's because the franchise, and the characters, have become unrecognisable, even to Google.
One headline that kept resurfacing during the search for SATC2 was 'the rise of the critically impervious film'. It's true; while the earlier episodes of the series were award-winning, critically-acclaimed masterworks, of late (as in with the final few series and the first film) the critics were less impressed. But it didn't matter. The fanbase was established, and a die-hard fan equals five sceptical critics with no emotional investment in the film. If fans wrote the reviews, this would truly be the greatest success story of all time.
From then on, keeping the fanbase happy was the number one priority. And as a result, the writers disregarded the wit and quality of the earlier series, when they were trying to make its name, and resulted in just giving the fans what they wanted; more juciy titbits from the lives of the four Manhattan women we know and love.
Unfortunately, with the most recent film, it would seem that when boarding the gravy train, a heck of a lot of luggage was left on the station.
Ok, so what can we find on that station?
1) Plot. The first film, and Carrie's story (because it's always been about her, hasn't it?) had a clearly defined story arc liberally spinkled with the times and trials of the three other leading ladies. This film made an attempt to thread all the details together until the plot resembled little more than one of the girls' suitcases after they were forced to leave Abu Dhabi in a hurry; furiously packed, bits and pieces crammed in when and where they'll fit, and generally overfilled. From the throwaway issue of former enemies Stanford and Anthony's weddings to the reapparance of Samantha's long-term lover Smith, the writers had created a rollercoaster, the kind of ride that hurtles along at full tilt with enough twists and turns to keep you screaming giddily with excitement.
I hate rollercoasters.
Having read an appraising Daily Mail review calling the film a 'romp' compared to the emotionally charged first film, I felt it was safe to say that all earlier rumours about the film were started by some ingenious PR person to drum up support for what sounded like an awesome film. The rumours doing the rounds included: the writers wanting Samantha's cancer to come back; Big and Samantha loosing their fortunes in the recession; Big relocating to London and having an affair; Carrie falling pregnant; Samantha getting married; Miranda and Steve opening a restaurant....the list goes on. See, when I heard those, I was excited. When I heard that Aidan was back in the picture, inexplicably happy to see (and kiss) Carrie despite the terrible things she did to him, I was excited. Compared to this bombshell-heavy super-plot, the real thing was a huge letdown.
2) Cast. Officially the worst-kept secret in Hollywood was the news of the return of Aidan Shaw, Carrie's one-time fiance and the hunky, all-American furniture designer we all wanted to be with in Season 3. I was intrigued. Knowing from the trailer (snore, I should have just stuck with the trailer) that 'something happened' between him and Carrie, I was expecting a newly divorced Aidan (another rumour) to realise what he was missing. Instead, I got a happily married Aidan inexplicably drawn to his haggard ex-girlfriend for no apparent reason. Mid-life crisis? Must be.
With my image of Aidan lying in tatters, I turned to the other main man of the series, Mr Big (I'm sorry, was anyone else let down by discovering his last name was 'Preston'?). Having been a die-hard Aidan (or in all honesty, a die-hard Steve) fan throughout the series, I was disturbed to find, in utter despair, myself drawn to Big. The rare tender moments he shared with Carrie when she wasn't acting like a five-year-old who got the wrong dollshouse for her birthday or strutting around like a moody teenager in thigh-split trousers were touching and surprisingly genuine for a man who had cheated on both his previous wives. Oh wait, they'll use that in the third film!
Also in the third film will be a whole host of other pointless celebrity cameos, such as the ones that appeared here. Penelope Cruz chatting up Mr Big? Miley Cyrus wearing Samantha's dress? (Neither of whom had a clue how to style it) And to top it all off, Liza Minelli coming out of retirement for a death-defying performance of Beyonce's Single Ladies. Ah writers! You cannot fool us die-hard fans with gimmicks! We see through your feeble attempts. Though Liza was impressive. I bet not many women her age can dance like that. And if she was supposed to be the girls' champion for ageing gracefully, a lot of the plot makes more sense.
For example, what the heck has happened to Samantha? Gone was the mature, sophisticated and brave cancer survivor. Instead we had a shrieking, insensitive 'bitch with an attitude', seemingly out to grab life by the balls. As much life as possible. How very Sam Taylor-Wood of her. It's just a shame that the writers are completely unaware how much abuse Samantha gets from the real male population and plays to their criticism by turning her into an image-obsessed, sex-obsessed hag better suited to a Carry On film or working in the Queen Vic with Pat Butcher. Kim Catrall, next time, negotiate harder.
For such a hard negotiator, Cynthia Nixon seemed relatively happy to take a back seat role. Once fighting Samantha for 'supporting actress' role, now Miranda seems to have been shunted lower than Charlotte in the pecking order with a few throwaway moments given to her before the writers force us to rush sycophantically after the other three. Miranda's thinly veiled case of sexism at work? Brushed under the carpet. This is not the Miranda I knew and loved. If this were Series 2 or 3, Miranda would have fought her corner like a champion. Here, she simply lay down and quit. Laziness on the part of the writers? Or maybe they just thought she was tired. A brief answer was offered, and she did miraculously get another job by the end of the film, but the Miranda I aspire to be was considerably watered down.
Whereas the simpering, whimpering Charlotte was revved up to maximum. I've never liked Charlotte. She's shallow, obsessed with perfection and largely seems to have lucked into her life. In the first film she drove me nuts with her constant shrieking and the fact that the most significant thing that she did in the whole film (yeah yeah, she had her baby) was 'shit her pants'. Please. Charlotte has been Hadley Freeman's 'man-obsessed moron' from the start, yet in this film she became self-obsessed, like the best of us, worrying over the small matter of her buxom blonde and inexplicably Irish nanny and Harry's supposed wandering eye. I guess this is one I can only understand when I have a husband and a hot nanny. But it's alright! She'll probably be a hot lesbian nanny! Ah well. Harry may never cheat, but Charlotte can be sure that she won't feature in his fantasies much any more.
Whereas Carrie can be sure that her one and only, Mr Big, having spent 10 years, six seasons and one film messing her around, is 100% devoted. Rare scenes of them cuddling in bed are touching, yet this doesn't seem enough for Carrie, who has clearly never appreciated the simple joy of coming home after a hard day's work to collapse on the sofa. A hard day's spending your husband's money isn't the same. While Big is content to age gracefully in the company of his TV, takeout and tantrum-prone wife, Carrie is desperate to go chasing her youth all over town, throwing a wobbly when an exhausted Big would rather stay home with her than go to some premiere. I'd hate to meet her parents. Carrie seems never to have learned the beauty of compromise; throughout the series a pout and a shout have been her most formidable weapons in argument. To every subtle Miranda moment, we have Carrie striking an adverse blow for how feminism should not look. She's like Peter Pan in a jumpsuit.
Eventually bored with Big's like, total boringness, Carrie eagerly joins the girls on an extravagant (well, that barely begins to cover it) trip to the Middle East, and there finds the opportunity to flirt shamelessly and dress shamelessly with a married ex. Hello, role reversal!
3) Location. Many critics have said that the main problem with the film lay in the writers' decision to take their leading ladies out of New York. I couldn't agree more. As soon as the girls touch down on their luxury jet in Abu Dhabi (with the thinnest explanation ever as to why they are there) the film skids into chaos accordingly. As an eco-warrior, I was appalled at the individual limos, and the shock on even Miranda's face at the thought of flying coach back home. To their credit, the writers do throw in a small detail about the girls' seeming disregard for their good fortune; Carrie's personal butler sees his wife in India once every three months, as that's how long he has to save to afford the flight. Carrie, as usual, throws money at this problem, noting his total commitment and adoration of his wife, while I noted the wad of bills on the desk and marvelled at how light they make of their extravagant, credit-crunch-defying, carbon-footprinting trip. Though at one point they do take a relaxing camel ride. Genius. Maybe they can go on a bike ride in Austria next.
When the girls aren't polluting the air above Abu Dhabi, they're polluting the air in it with obscene outfits, total ignorance and a disrespect for the culture that made me worry for their safety, in real life as well. The sight of Samantha throwing condoms liberally back and forth in a crowded Souk, the lame attempts at covering their shoulders to appease the volatile locals and Carrie's starry-eyed admiration of a blinged-out local that she dubbed 'the Real Housewife of Abu Dhabi' would be enough to make Nick Griffin blush. Or ask the writers to pen his next public speech. Don't even get me started on the girls' chance encounter with a friendly group of Vuitton-clad local women and their ensuing escape plot, in full-body veils, from the Souk. Samantha claims Miranda is 'fun in Abu Dhabi', and Carrie calls Charlotte 'crazy in Abu Dhabi'. It was at the moment when I saw Carrie leave her passport behind on (of course) a shoe stall in an effort to fit a new pair of shoes in her purse that I came to this conclusion - the film, and the girls, were 'stupid in Abu Dhabi'.
4) Fashion. Always the series' best supporting cast member, the few positive comments about this film was that women who love fashion will love this film. I can count the number of outfits that I coveted in one hand. Most of them were Miranda's.
5) Relationships. Again, the series was on the money here, taking us carefully through the friendships and relationships of a group of women that we can all grow up with. Their relationships with their partners, and with eachother, have always been the centrepoint of the show. Until now. I saw this coming from Carrie's poignant final speech about the best relationship you can have being with yourself. I always knew she was self-centred (she is a columnist, after all) but the levels to which she took it in this crass exploration were nauseating. Hadley Freeman is, at least, wrong about her. Though in her defence, she's spent the past ten years obsessing over Big. She's allowed some time to obsess over herself.
At least she doesn't have children, who would subsequently be doomed to a life of neglect and terrible clothes. Admittedly if I had Charlotte's children, I'd lock myself in my pantry and hire a hot nanny too. There is, thankfully, a more skilled dynamic to Charlotte's relationship in this film. Having found perfection in her marriage and family with Harry, it was only a matter of time before Charlotte would learn, like the rest of us, that perfection doesn't exist without disaray. And boy did she find it. It's a good job she doesn't have a job.
Unlike Miranda, who has spent the last film and few series juggling her commitments as a mum and a full-time career woman. It's a shame that the writers got bored with this angle, for in the modern world this seems the one that is plaguing women even now. I suppose, considering she spent the last film fraught, this was the one where she was allowed a stable family life in preperation for a whistle-stop tour of voluntary redundancy. How I admire her. I just wonder if any women in the real world are so willing to walk out a job in this climate.
And Samantha? Well, as per usual, her most significant relationship is with her medicine cabinet and her 'goody drawer' (I was amazed that the writers avoided the easy gag of the security staff at Abu Dhabi airport finding a wide assortment of vibrators in her baggage), and this film gave her the chance to throw off the shackles of Smith from the last film and attempt to screw everything that moved. None of them, however, were as hot as Smith. But for a woman with that many sex toys, she must get bored easily.
And, in conclusion, so did I. I get bored easily. I get bored especially easy by racism, crassness, Carrie, shameless insensitivity and over-commercialism. So it's safe to say that when this film was made, I was not the target fan they had in mind. Interestingly, a vast majority of the women in the cinema with me (all of whom where in pairs, and older than me) were overheard saying they enjoyed it, and looked at me in a scandalised way when I described it as 'a mess'. Clearly, Carrie and co's peers wanted a bit of fun. Maybe when I'm 40-something I'll get it. By then, maybe I'll be like the girls. Oh God. I've seen my future. Quick, time to retrain as a lawyer.