When it came to the film version of “Sex and the City,” there was still at least one virgin left in Charlotte as of Tuesday. I'd never seen a moment of the HBO series or read a plot synopsis, and I went to the preview screening wondering what effect the movie would have on a curious male outsider. The answer is …
It was like attending a party where all the guests have known each other for years, exert no effort to make a newcomer feel at home and chatter endlessly – yes, for two-and-a-half draggy hours – about their romantic problems.
As a film, it's flabby and utterly predictable. Leading actresses Sarah Jessica Parker, Kristin Davis, Kim Cattrall and Cynthia Nixon jump through familiar hoops with ease, but writer-director Michael Patrick King saddles them with banal dialogue and leaden pacing.
And as the resurrection of a beloved cultural experience, the movie made me wonder what people liked in the first place. Can viewers have been so attached to two-dimensional characters living out dull variants on the Cinderella story? Can they have responded to dialogue as clichéd as this: “When we label someone, we forget to look past the label to the person”? Or is the motion picture a betrayal of the wit, depth and edge of the TV series?
Most of the story concerns Carrie (Parker) and her relationship with commitment-phobic Mr. Big (Chris Noth). Even a novice could plot all their couplings and uncouplings in advance, and (like all the men in the film) Big remains a marginalized plot contrivance.
Meanwhile, attorney Miranda (Nixon) and husband Steve (David Eigenberg) part company over his one-time infidelity; Samantha (Cattrall) worries that her boy-toy lover (Jason Lewis) may be keeping her from sexual exploration, and Charlotte (Davis) – well, she's just there. Her one big scene springs from the dumbest coincidence in a movie this year.
The joys for devout fans will be the trying-on-clothes-and-shoes scenes. Even someone like me, who doesn't know Jimmy Choos from chimichangas, can understand the rapture Carrie feels when designer Vivienne Westwood gives her a stunning wedding gown. A Vogue fashion shoot is a highlight: Say what you will about the objectification of women, but acknowledge that there's something glorious about looking your best in haute couture. (Then acknowledge that frequent, obtrusive and clumsy product placement like the kind in “Sex” embarrasses any movie.)
The champagne of these wordless, giddy montages quickly goes flat whenever anyone speaks. King has created one new character – Carrie's personal assistant Louise, played by big-hearted Jennifer Hudson – and even a more experienced actress couldn't put over Louise's maudlin speeches about love. (I also had an ugly feeling that she was inserted to avoid protests that the lily-white cast wasn't diverse enough.)
In the end, the problem is not that the movie excludes men or “SATC” newbies; it excludes people who want to think and feel something fresh or deep. Wait, I'm being a bit too hard on the film: I did learn that women can't stop laughing when female friends break wind uncontrollably. I thought that applied only to guys, but there's common ground between the sexes, after all!