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Materialism: The Movie

Materialism: The Movie

Sex and the City, as I had somewhat figured, opened with an astounding $26 million Friday, a higher opening day than Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and double what most industry folk were expecting. On its way to a $65 million weekend, it will likely break a bunch of records: highest opening for a romantic comedy, for a film with female leads, etc, etc.

There is going to a ton of press about what these numbers mean (though its pretty simple: women are 50% of the population, and get 5% of the movies; Sex shows its time for that to change), and the movie itself will supplant itself into history as the first ever female-driven megablockbuster (other than maybe My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but that happened in a very different way).

Like seemingly every other urban gay or gal, I saw the film this weekend, and have wrestled with an instant love/hate relationship with it (don’t read on past the first paragraph if you haven’t seen it and want to).

On a side note, the viewing experience itself was really interesting. I went to a Thursday night show at the “Scotiamount” downtown Montreal. All 7 screenings were sold out, and women were dressed up in full fledged gowns. Cheers were rampant throughout the film, and the aura of excitement from the second you sat in the theatre was, honestly, really fun. But there’s obviously a dark side to all this spectacle (for a take on that much funnier than I could ever muster: read this), and it was just as much depressing as it was exciting to see people take something so seriously. Not that they themselves are to blame. If Sex and the City: The Movie wasn’t such a rare breed of event-movie, maybe it wouldn’t bring out such desperation.

As a (conflicted) fan of the show (I don’t know if it started now I’d be as in to it as I was back in 1999), for the most part I resorted to a nostalgic self during the actual viewing of the film, pretending I was the significantly less educated and cynical person that first fell in love with the show almost 10 years ago, just so I could get past a thesis-worth of issues. And, granted, this wasn’t hard. The film is at times very funny, genuinely moving, and even occasionally shines light on often-ignored (and in terms of big summer movies, entirely ignored) themes like the fear of aging, the complications of monogamy, and the dark side of human emotion.

But there were times during the film I couldn’t help but snicker, roll my eyes, and resist vomiting. The cheesy dialogue was in full force, especially in Carrie’s “reading” of some parts of her “books” that she’s now making a very good living of writing. At the very end she reads a section of unfinished new book that resulted from the events of the film, and I couldn’t help but wonder: You’d think that Michael Patrick King would be capable, as a at times very good writer, of making Carrie seem like she herself is capable of being a good writer. Her “insight” into “love” sounds like it comes from a high school writing workshop.

And sometimes, so does King’s (see the scene when Carrie figures out the password to her hidden e-mails). What’s worse is King couldn’t manage to come up with anything new here. The plot of the film is basically a rehash of the final season of the show, done bigger and (sometimes) done better. Breaking up Carrie and Miranda from Big and Steve (which we’ve already seen at least three times each) just to give the plot something to work with is as desperate as the girls wearing gowns to the screenings.

But at least there are some human-esque qualities to the as-seen-on-TV stories, and sometimes we get glimpses into the film Sex could have been. Cynthia Nixon, even with her tired storyline, rises above her work on the series and continues to push Miranda into her unique place among the 4 women: the only character with real problems. Even Samantha, who I felt was placed a few steps away from caricature and a few toward character, is given a story that – unlike the end of the series which awkwardly ended her story as being in a stable relationship – explores the idea that monogamy isn’t for anyone, and Kim Cattrall does a really good job making this work on levels of both funny and affecting. Too bad Kristin Davis does the opposite, making Charlotte MORE of a caricature than she’d ever been and causing me to unintentionally laugh out loud at her shrill line readings on more than one occasion (her shitting herself in Mexico, though, was the funniest part of the film).

Carrie, always my least favourite character thanks to her remarkable self-absorption (evident here again when she consistently cuts off her friends’ discussion of their problems by making a pun that transitions the conversation to her own drama), has a few moments of realism. One really good scene shows her looking to the mirror, sans makeup and voiceover, examining a face that very much looks her age. Its a minute of insight into the challenges that women face in a materialistic world based so much on how people look. But unfortunately, Sex champions this world way more than it criticizes it, so any insight it might give into the problems these ladies have is ruined by the fact that this film, and the series it came from, played a role in making them (which the film even winks to on a few occasions: 4 20something girls are shown walking in a gang at the beginning in an homage to many Sex-posers, and a scene toward the end shows them all drinking Cosmos and acknowledging they stopped drinking them because “everyone else started.”)

“Labels and love” are the reasons Carrie gives to women who move to New York City, and she exemplifies its still the reason she stays there by shrieking at the sight of designer gowns, fancy bags, and, of course, shoes. Her character feels even more shallow that she did on the series. She’s also even more well-off this time around (thanks to her books or thanks to her Big sugar daddy?) and this brings the film to a whole new level of depicting social hierarchies. This is most offensively displayed in the relationship she has with Jennifer Hudson’s “we have a black person on Sex and the City!” character. Hudson’s Louise is Carrie’s assistant, and correct me if I’m looking to far into things, but their relationship plays a bit like Driving Miss Bradshaw. Louise is at Carrie’s beckon call, unpacking her boxes, running her errands, returning her e-mails. And Louise, supposedly there to represent the differences in age-privileges among women, stands out as a representation of class and race differences. She can’t even buy a bag, she “rents” them, and freaks out like a starved child when Carrie, rich, white woman that she is, buys Louise a real-life Gucci (I could have the brand wrong) bag for all her hard work she did making sure rich, white Carrie has an organized apartment and her e-mails returned. There’s another scene that furthers these themes that outright shocked me. Miranda and her son are looking for an apartment in Chinatown and are surrounded by Asian people. Miranda sees a white man and her baby walk by and says to Brady (word for word, seriously) “follow the white man with the baby, he’ll know where to go”. And you wonder how subtle racism is bred among children?

These outstanding offenses aside, I do think that Sex is susceptible to more criticisms than the average movie. Its issues are all over the pop cultural map, but with Sex, the fact that, as its box office shows, it has such an intense following and extreme influence, people take more notice. If you take it simply as a summer popcorn film, its a very fun time. But Sex and the City, mammoth of estrogen-fueled following that it has, failed because it didn’t take a very rare opportunity to be a little more critical of the world it examines and influences. I left the theatre thinking of my 15 year old sister, who went to see it with a big gang of future Carrie wannabes, and thought, THIS, Juno and Tina Fey aside, is the only role models Hollywood can muster up for them? Even if I look critically at myself, who watched the show from the ages of 14-20, I see my own vain, shallow, materialistic qualities and how Sex played a role in pushing them along. But Sex certainly didn’t create them. Its just a big fish in a shallow ocean. And one might even argue that the materialism it displays is sadly a somewhat realistic portrayal of the rich, white world its portraying.

(for a different take, check out the always insightful – seriously – Reel Geezers:

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