If you have the ability to read, a functioning internet connection and at least a passing interest in female-focused pop culture, you’ve probably read some truly and utterly scathing reviews of Sex and the City 2. I certainly did before going to see it with my best girlfriend on Saturday night, and when you combine their description of the movie with the residual anger that I’m still having over how face-numbingly awful the first SATC movie was, my expectations were so low as to be almost nonexistent.
And then, a weird thing happened: I sorta liked it. I grinned for almost the entire two-and-a-half hours, laughed out loud on more than a few occasions, and may or may not have gasped something along the lines of “OH MY GOD IT’S THE DIOR NEWSPRINT DRESS” loud enough for several rows of women to turn around and look at me, even though I already knew that particular item was going to be in the film. And it all made me wonder – what were all of those critics so angry about anyway?
Don’t worry, there won’t be any spoilers in my review. I promise.
Let’s be clear: I have an emotional attachment to Sex and the City. I watched the series for the first time in the months before I left home for college and re-watched it dozens more times in the months after. Without the show, I don’t know if I would have made it through my first year away from home or my first real broken heart.
I’ve never met someone that could beat me at Sex and the City trivia, which is a real board game that I actually own. I wrote a 20-page research paper on gender norms in the series for one of my last classes in journalism school, which means that if it hadn’t been for Sex and the City, not only might I not have made it through my freshman year, but I quite literally might not have graduated. The way that the first movie deviated from the heart and intelligence of the show in favor of upping the Sparkly Shoe Factor made me want to punch people (and when I say “people,” I mean Michael Patrick King) in the face.
And, in fairness, there were a few loathsome things about the sequel as well. Those that criticize the film’s run time are correct to do so, as are those that find its Orientalist depiction of Middle Eastern culture offensive and lazy – it was both. The movie, set mostly in a technicolor version of Abu Dhabi that was apparently dreamed up by someone that had never been there, showcased four grown women acting like entitled, xenophobic, slightly racist a-holes and managed to validate almost every Ugly American tourist stereotype except for the old socks-and-sandals trope. If they had managed to scrap most of the trip to the UAE and cut the run time by about 45 minutes, the movie would have been infinitely better.
Parts of it, however, were still pretty great. Grown women talking intelligently to one and other about the changing face of marriage and the difficulties of modern motherhood is still a rare thing in mainstream entertainment, and both of those subjects were central themes in the film, as is the pressure often faced by those women that choose to remain childless. A lot of it may have been covered up at times by hacky slapstick and Charlotte’s inability to stay on her camel, but the serious stuff was all there, just as it would have been during the series. That any of those subjects can make it into a big-budget summer flick is something to which I’ll gladly raise my glass.
Then there’s the fact that, at it’s core, the movie was simply a lot of fun. The clothes were gorgeous (not to mention a very effective commercial for Halston), as we all knew they would be, and there were enough winks to the details of the series that any serious fan could have been easily entertained by them alone. I even like some of the things I knew I shouldn’t have – all four women got up to sing “I am Woman” at an Abu Dhabi karaoke bar and I enjoyed it, no matter how hokey it was. And Liza Minnelli doing a cover of “Single Ladies” with two Liza impersonators as backup dancers? I hope that I one day go to a gay wedding that fabulous. In its best moments, Sex and the City 2 was a high-gloss romp through a certain version of female fantasy land.
Therein lies the problem with the reviews: most of the movie reviewers out there are male. The overwhelming majority of them, in fact. Those reviewers are likely people that don’t have a personal history with these characters like the one that I shared above or the ones that most of you certainly have. There’s no recognition of the emotional significance of a particular Dior dress when they watch the film – it’s just another weird outfit from Patricia Field that seems contrived to a lot of men because it’s not the way that the women in their lives choose to dress. And those are the most reasonable of the critics – I prefer to not even mention the ones that wholeheartedly dismiss “female” problems as petty or movies designed to appeal to women as inherently awful, implying that women aren’t interesting.
As far as I can tell, though, the reason that a lot of male reviewers hated Sex and the City 2 is the exact same reason that a lot of them loved Transformers but I thought it was the worst movie that I’d ever seen in my entire life: Transformers isn’t my fantasy world. Sex and the City 2 isn’t theirs. The difference is that I don’t have the power to call their fantasy stupid in any meaningful way, yet they’ve taken every opportunity to dump on mine and disguise it as critical acuity.
Not that the movie is without major flaws – it’s far from it. I wish that the writers had depicted the women (and the Middle East) in a more positive and truthful way, and I wish that the nuance and guts that were present in the show were more often present in the films. We all know that when movie studios and big budgets get involved, however, things usually end badly, and Sex and the City 2 ended somewhat less badly than I had expected. Here’s to low expectations and pleasant surprises.