Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Unintended Diane Arbus Subtext
If you were in L.A. this past weekend, you know how hot it was. Determined to not be trapped in the heat on Sunday, I decided to go to the Arclight. It was the perfect day to plant myself where I knew there would be air conditioning which made it ideal to see something which I already knew was going to be very long. That’s right, I went to see SEX AND THE CITY. Am I going to lose the respect of everyone reading this now? Do I lose my membership in the he-man woman haters club? To give a little history, I went through a period a few years ago when I watched the reruns on TBS. I think I got to see a fair chunk of the run, although looking over the episode guide in a recent Entertainment Weekly it struck me that there were a lot of episodes which, while I knew I had seen, I remembered next to nothing about. And I didn’t particularly have much of a desire to refresh my memory. But it’s not like I’m opposed to movies with women in them. I like women. I like women in movies. If THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA is playing on HBO, I’ll stay there and watch it. If I’d been writing this thing in ’05 then you’d know I thought that IN HER SHOES was the best film of that year. So even though I had avoided the crowds that swarmed the Arclight and other theaters on opening weekend I wasn’t dreading SEX AND THE CITY: THE MOTION PICTURE. The show was always kind of zippy and peppy, so there was no reason to think the movie wouldn’t be.
Reviews which describe the film as being five episodes of the show crammed together are incorrect. It would be more accurate to describe SEX AND THE CITY: THE MOVIE as having a narrative arc of a twelve-episode season of the show. In doing this it dispenses with all the stuff which would be the episodic plotlines, the nit-picky stuff that Carrie Bradshaw would try to figure out every week. You know, the parts that were funny and entertaining. For whatever reason, the makers of SEX AND THE CITY: LE FILM (specifically writer/director Michael Patrick King) decided to make a film which focused almost exclusively on the soapy stuff at the expense of the laughs and fun. And since it clocks in at nearly two-and-a-half hours, it’s a long, long sludge. For once I didn’t mind being in an air-conditioned theater for a very long time but for a movie with a narrative that seems to span close to a year, it did feel like I had been in there about that long.
But more than not being a fun movie, SEX AND THE CITY: THE QUICKENING isn’t in anyway a particularly good movie. You could almost say that it’s not really a movie at all. There’s no attempt whatsoever to bring any sort of visual pizzazz to spotlight how these characters have entered a new world onto the silver screen. If this is supposed to be a movie about materialism, great clothes, shoes, hair, all that stuff, what was needed was someone to bring a twenty-first century Sirk/Minnelli vibe to the whole thing to make it as over-the-top as the lives the characters are living. Unfortunately, King has zero eye for this sort of thing. It’s a surprisingly flat-looking movie to the point that some shots even seem badly framed. When STAR TREK:GENERATIONS was made, the first Trek film with the Next Generation cast, they used one of the show directors but knew enough to bring in legendary cinematographer John Alonzo to bring a new, more textured look to it and it’s still one of the best-looking of the series (even if the film isn’t very good). Here, they had the director of photography from the show do the job (John Thomas, who according to the imdb shot Whit Stillman’s THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO, a much, much better movie about relationships among the New York nightlife) and with this harsh, ugly look magnified to such an extent it winds up looking cheaper and less interesting than the show ever did. Couldn’t they have shot it in Scope? Couldn’t there have been some energy brought to the numerous scenes of characters doing nothing but sitting and talking? Shouldn’t the movie have looked brighter and more colorful? If it had embraced that artificiality than maybe the characters wouldn’t have seemed quite so shallow and reprehensible. I would have just been able to accept them as part of this larger-than-life New York. Somehow, in the lightning-fast pace of the series this never seemed like an issue but watching it just reminded me how much I never want to meet any woman remotely like any of them. The film’s idea of enlarging its premise for the big-screen seems to be to take the standard montage of characters looking troubled while sad music plays and makes it at least twice as long as it would be on the show. Maybe three times as long.
For those who love the movie, you don’t need me saying how the actors are. I won’t even make cracks about their age, since that’s not my issue with the thing. If Kim Cattrall were playing her character from BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA at this age, that would be fantastic. But they’re playing who they’re playing and they’re exactly what you expect. I always kinda liked Kristin Davis but for some reason she doesn’t get to have her own storyline as much as things just seem to happen to her. She does get to be the recipient of the one big scatological joke, which everyone onscreen seems to think is hilarious. Whatever. Jennifer Hudson, as Carrie Bradshaw’s new assistant, clearly isn’t an actress but the fact that she seems slightly out of place in this context makes her seem more genuine than anyone. Because of this, when she coos over an expensive purse she’s given as a present, it’s like seeing her depart the human race. The familiar recurring characters are pretty much tossed away. Willie Garson and Mario Cantone get to do less than Sulu and Chekov in the average STAR TREK movie. Candice Bergen has great billing for one small, dull scene in which she at least has a good line about Diane Arbus. The various male leads never get much of a chance to be as interesting as they were on the series. Evan Handler in particular has extremely little screen time but he does at least have one moment late in the film where he gets to be particularly menschy. It wasn’t much but there was something about how human it seemed that it just stood out to me and made me interested for about a minute. Of all the people in the movie he’s the only one I’d want to have an actual conversation with.
I know, I know. The movie wasn’t made for me. The movie was made for all those who are extremely invested in these characters to the point of tears and are ecstatic during every second of every montage of the women trying on clothes. During one Sarah Jessica Parker tries on the dress from the opening credits of the TV show and every character coos, maybe because they’ve seen the show as well. It’s kind of like when the marching band plays the Rocky Theme in ROCKY III. At one point Parker bemoans how she can’t get a 917 number for her new cell phone, commenting how 917 is “old New York”. Which makes me ponder how long it’s been since I spent any real time there. I can remember when there was the 8th Street Playhouse, Tower Records and no Starbucks on every corner. But I guess time goes by. Is this the New York that I’m missing? What I’m trying to say is that I’m fully aware that I’m not the target audience for BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF SEX AND THE CITY. But that still doesn’t prevent me from thinking that it couldn’t have been better on its own terms. I thought it would be a funny, sexy movie and the most surprising thing is that it isn’t one at all. I just trust that writing this won’t make me seem like any less of a man to anyone. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go watch the new DIRTY HARRY DVD box set.