Sex and the Carrie-cature

I saw Sex and the City: The Movie. Apparently, so did other American women. The film grossed 55.7 million dollars opening weekend. And check out these statistics, taken from a Fandango survey of more than 10,000 moviegoers in advance of the premiere:

— 67% of respondents plan to attend the movie this weekend with a group of female friends.
— 80% plan to attend a “Sex and the City” get-together before or after the movie.
— 68% plan to drink Cosmopolitans at their get-togethers.
— 51% plan to dress up for the occasion.
— 94% of the respondents are female.
— 45% of the respondents are 25-34.

Although it’s unclear to me what constitutes a “Sex and the City get together” after the movie (if you’re anything like my girlfriends, and you exit the theater only to stand indecisively on the street corner, preferably blocking an entrance and/or bike lane, batting around ideas about what to do next — er, not exactly batting, because that feels too athletic — does that count as a get together?), these figures are not so surprising. I’m 31, and I went with a group of dressed-up women, and we had a Sex and the City loiter, I mean get together, in front of the subway. And we would have smuggled in Cosmos in thermoses if we hadn’t been too hung over from birthday Jager bombs the night before.

Most critics, while acknowledging the movie’s consumer appeal, haven’t reviewed it kindly. OK, I get it; it’s Oscar de la Renta, not Oscar, worthy. But a rather exhaustive read-through of the top-critics has led me to suspect that those panning the movie hardest have never seen the series, or if they have, never liked it to begin with, and now can’t bother to substantiate their attacks. I did the same thing in Sophmore English, when I was supposed to have finished Moby Dick but didn’t, and wrote in the exam blue book that it was too long and focused unnecessarily on one whale.

Anthony Lane, in The New Yorker, sardonically asserts that Carrie and her fashion-forward cohorts are “hormonal hobbits,” and that their “gallops of conspicuous consumption seem oddly joyless, as displacement activities tend to be.” But — and pardon me for not making it past the chapter entitled “Whale Blubber” — men are prone to hormonally driven quests too, and sometimes I find their displacement activities boring. I think it’s perfectly acceptable to knock Sarah Jessica Parker’s stilted, look-at-my-abs! now look at them again while I climb on this chair to reach a high shelf! performance, but when the prevailing invective doesn’t deal with acting or script on any real unbiased level, I find it troublesome. It’s easy to be dismissive, to cite estrogen. No one makes fun of harpoons, but show an audience heels, and watch out!

I couldn’t care less about designer labels; I allow my toenails to grow so long that they nick my boyfriend’s shins in bed; and I think I’m a better but broker writer than Carrie Bradshaw, which, well, just makes me mad. In fact, there’s a lot that disqualifies me as a member of Sex and The City’s target audience. I still have trouble remembering if it’s Sex IN or AND the City. But then I reread Anthony Lane’s introductory paragraph, the one in which he couldn’t help but wonder if Carrie “would commit suicide by self-pity (a constant threat), or would a crocodile escape from the Bronx Zoo and wreak a flesh-ripping revenge for all those handbags?” A paragraph positioned next to a cartoon rendering of the four protagonists looking so sinister, so dried up, even Medusa wouldn’t want them for a head:

and I feel cheated, realizing there’s a subtext of sexism in his article, that this is a caricature of female aging. Or “Carrie-cature”, if you will. It isn’t just the fuss over men and Manolos; it’s that the women fussing are now middle-aged. Stephen Whitty, in The Newark Star-Ledger, calls the movie “an absurd joke,” pointing out that “times have painfully changed, and suddenly self-absorption and $18 cocktails don’t seem so cute.” Cute? He faults the Bond movies for product placement but almost as a politically correct aside. Do Whitty’s “changed times” apply less to galavanting men?

If you’re Jack Nicholson, you can be an on-screen bounder. But shame shame if you’re Kim Cattrall — who, by the way, I’d rather look at shirtless. Critics have belittled the movie as narcissistic treatment of what was trite to begin with. That it’s a pathetic excuse for a wedding dress montage, and that, well, these women are pitiful, and maybe what’s worse than pitiful, shallow. “All they do is talk about sex and relationships!” I’ll say what I’ve long said: It’s called Sex and The City, not Current Events in The City, or Careers in The City, and while I’m sure these women hold intelligent and probably punny conversations on other subjects, the show is whittled down to a particular narrative. That narrative predominately focuses on the material that, off-screen, makes its way into Carrie’s column. It just doesn’t seem that complicated. If you edited my phone calls to female friends, and spliced together our monthly brunches, and voiced-over our dinner parties, you would come up with something similar. For example, you’d know that we use the term “plantain dick” to refer to men with small wee-wees, but maybe not that we have heated, throw-your-fork-down-discussions about Rococo architecture. (I hate cherubs.)

Having written all this, and having bawled like a Rococo baby during scenes that didn’t much demand bawling, I thought the movie fell short of the series. But I identify with the sisterly camaraderie and tender witness to… whatever it is that bands us women together, at any age, when one of us goes off in search of our version of the whale or ring. Regardless of whether or not that search involves an ill-placed hibiscus.

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5 responses to “Sex and the Carrie-cature

  1. i quote samantha in saying, to you, my trybecca, that this blog and commentary is ‘FABULOUS’, and to Anthony Lane, i, again, quote samantha in saying, ‘SHUT UP DICKWAD!’

    truth be told, in my opinion, it’s not easy being a woman in a man’s world where biology is stacked against us on all fronts, but it seems to be the case that for some men, they simply can’t handle when a woman actually finds a will and a way to try and enjoy the process and make the experience interesting… or maybe Anthony didn’t get laid the night before he wrote this, and his review was his displacement activity. BOOYACASHA!!! that’s my piece, thank you very much. and yes, in case you were wondering, i’m 29, i love sex and the city, and i’m fabulous.

  2. and P.S. you forgot to mention that we bumped into and chatted with smith jared, samantha’s boyfriend (actor jason lewis), right after we got out of the theater in union square!!!! talk about a sex and the city experience… 😉

  3. I congratulate you on calling out Anthony Lane of the New Yorker among a host of other reviewers (many of them men) for what they really are: obviously non-fans of the show, sexist and ageist! I agree wholeheartedly. This woman outlines very well what makes the movie great for women and why men like Anthony Lane just don’t get it:

    http://blog.seattlepi.nwsource.com/spi/archives/140322.asp

    “SATCTM is about girls, by girls and for girls (or women if you prefer)….It’s inside baseball for women, which is perhaps why reviewers like the New Yorker’s Anthony Lane missed it entirely. No one at any point says “this is how friendship can create, destroy or save a marriage” but the movie goes on to show all the permutations.”

    Bravo.

  4. This is why I rarely discuss my utter hatred of SEX AND THE CITY with women. At a certain point you’ll get labeled sexist, which is pretty hilarious considering how vacuous and stereotypical the show is. It’s easier to close off discussion with an ad hominem attack, than admitting that it’s probably the superficiality of the show that makes it so satisfying.

    I haven’t read the Anthony Lane review, but he’s not my favorite writer–he’s certainly entertaining to read but only goes skin deep and uses glibness as a foil to avoid discussing a film intellectually. Better I think is Manohla Dargis’ NYTIMES review (she’s a woman, which I guess matters), who also didn’t like the film.

    So just a couple points:

    1. You cite Lane for not writing an “unbiased” review. Criticism is by definition biased. Just as your post is biased, and this comment is biased. It doesn’t work any other way.

    2. You defend the show by saying that people who criticize it for its relentless focus on sex, relationships, shopping are ignoring the fact that THAT’S WHAT THE SHOW IS SUPPOSED TO BE ABOUT! Well, the most elevated form of criticism is not about saying whether something “works” (by all accounts the show does–it’s well-written, acted, directed and fulfills it’s primary goal of making money) but the values that lie beneath the shiny surface. Sure BLACK HAWK DOWN functions, but it’s a giant Army commercial–glorifying the culture of war while wearing an apolitical mask. Yeah, asbestos works great but it gives you fucking cancer.

    By focusing on only certain attributes of these women–or more correctly I think, only giving them those attributes–carries a message. The question is whether you find that troubling.

    Anyway (sorry to belabor this but I’m also avoiding work at work) that’s my response to your response. I won’t deep into all my problems with the show (and maybe its good qualities redeem those for everybody else, or they just don’t notice what I notice) because I’m not going to convince anyone. But here it is in brief: the show glorifies the worst aspects of our current culture–materialism, consumerism, selfishness, elitism, objectification–in a pretty fucking evil and insidious way. That it’s so popular that some people use it as a model or reference point for their own lives makes it more painful. I feel the same way about the show ENTOURAGE (kind of a male version of SEX) if that helps.

    See you at the bar.

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