Review: Sex and the City

Sex and the City

Never having subscribed to Home Box Office (HBO) let alone watched the HBO show about what looked like a sisterhood of shallow women, my expectations for Sex and the City, a movie based on the cable program, which was based on a book by Candace Bushnell, were markedly low.

Starring squinty Sarah Jessica Parker as a writer named Carrie Bradshaw, and featuring three of her gal pals, Sex and the City is better than expected. Parker could be decked in diamonds and still look to me like the best friend in Footloose, and this often silly soap bobs in the suds.

But a character named Samantha, played by solidly built Kim Cattrall as a catty Mae West type, livens things up. She gets the funniest lines and scenes in this adult-themed picture, with cracks about a national forest and sushi that will have everyone—including husbands and lovers—laughing out loud. It’s just a notch above the crude humor in The Hangover and Judd Apatow-type gutter jokes. But, these days, it could have been worse.

Take the rest as a made for television tribute to friendship and falling in love. Thankfully suctioning out much of the vile, sneering humor common to cable television programming, Sex and the City does its best to make us like these four New York women. Besides narrator Carrie, whose narrative explains that she was drawn to New York City in pursuit of fashion designer labels and love—don't expect women with ambitious goals here—and husky Samantha, who eats men for breakfast, there's doe-eyed Charlotte (the most sympathetic character, portrayed by Kristin Davis) and a frumpy redhead named Miranda (Cynthia Nixon).

Each female's subplot crosses with one another. Fashion, friendship and fairy tales dominate the imagery and the intersections are as deep and involving as listening to a cellular phone conversation while waiting in line at Starbucks. But the characters are realistic and somewhat sympathetic. Though they all trash men and talk like feminists in the 70s, these vapid women, who apparently work for a living, are not driven by being productive; they are a throwback to dames in the 40s, minus the wit and sophistication.

Men are cardboard cut-out figures of gays, sugar daddies and regular Joes—with one warm, Jewish poppa bear type thrown in as a cameo. The plot, such as it is, concerns Carrie's wedding to someone the women refer to as "Big" without explanation—as in Mister Big (now that’s sexist stereotyping) capably played by Chris Noth. He is basically a prop, on display to let Parker spin around in an elaborate wedding dress display.

Amid scenes of classic New York City romanticism, Samantha struggles to keep things fresh and stay loyal in her California relationship—brace for typical anti-L.A. jokes—Miranda wonders about sexual dry spells and Charlotte gasps here and there. Extraneous side characters by Candice Bergen and Jennifer Hudson should have been cut in a two-and-a-half hour movie that is half an hour too long.

The nicely packaged Sex and the City piles on overdone clothes—Parker looks like a parfait in everything but the wedding gowns—arched eyebrows, and chronic consumption of alcohol.

Though it sputters and stalls, there is usually something interesting to look at or listen to and it is often something relatable. Awkward, silent moments in the back of a taxi—an emotional rescue on New Year's Eve—the simple wonder of a properly lighted walk-in closet, there is honesty about what people, especially women, feel about trying to have it all in the loneliness of the big city. Parker's character is demonstrably petty and Cattrall's aging blonde is a decidedly less civilized variation on Eve Arden’s classic Hollywood characters, but there are plenty of laughs and some sweetness in what adds up to a flimsy fairy tale.

Revised version of review originally published on Box Office Mojo in 2008.

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