Dir. Michael Patrick King
(R) ★ ★
Carrie Bradshaw: “You brought me back to life!”
Louise: “And you gave me Louis Vuitton!”
Not a fair trade if you ask me. Louis Vuitton is a high-end designer of bags and purses. Most of us will never own a Louis Vuitton bag. If by chance you have never heard of Louis Vuitton, you’ve probably lived a full and enviable life. The characters in Sex and the City: The Movie, we come to understand, would die without Louis Vuitton. They would also die without Prada, Chanel, and Manolo Blahnik. Their shoes cost hundreds of dollars per pair. Their closets are as extensive as the wardrobe departments of Hollywood studios. In one scene, a character looks down at a pile of magazines; on top is an issue of New York Magazine whose front page story is the declining real estate market, but she instead picks up the Vogue underneath. When she asks her partner if they can afford an expensive penthouse apartment, he answers smugly, “I got it.” He hasn’t read the magazine either.
I was a fan of the Sex and the City television series than ran on HBO from 1998 to 2004, and I remember that its quartet of New York City socialites always had a weakness for designer labels, but on the series, fashion was the window dressing for a witty, articulate comedy about contemporary single women. In the film, fashion is an end unto itself. Scenes have been constructed to showcase the extravagant clothes, and the names of designers appear in the screenplay as regularly as the names of the characters. Fashion is the subject, and now the women are the window dressing. They are not as witty or articulate as they once were. They are frivolous and irrational.
The DVD includes a feature-length commentary that sheds light, in the way that Luminol reveals evidence at a crime scene. Michael Patrick King, the writer and director of the film as well as an executive producer of the series, seems to have lost his characters in the shuffle. There is a throwaway line — “You’ve got pudding in your Prada” — and King explains that it prompted the crucial search for exactly the right Prada bag for the scene, but both the line and the prop are forgettable. He points out Chanel earmuffs and a Hermes blanket. He tells a story of how a production assistant was flown to Mexico to retrieve a dress for the filming of a scene. He put a lot of thought into costumes; he has directed a fashion show and not a movie.
He also discusses his characters’ relationships, but he gets those wrong too. His greatest miscalculation is his neglect of the character of Mr. Big (Chris Noth). In the film’s central storyline, Big becomes engaged to author Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), his on-again, off-again love from the series. As the wedding approaches, she allows herself to become a bridezilla, and the thrice-married Big behaves out of fear. Carrie is heartbroken, but so is Big, yet he disappears for an hour while we spend that time with characters who vilify him. King’s unbalanced sympathies cause mine to teeter in the opposite direction: Carrie is entitled to heartbreak, but why does the film make Big the villain, rather than give equal consideration to his feelings?
Their conflict would best have been dealt with thoughtfully and with humor, but King resorts to melodrama. The breakup scene is the film’s worst, using indulgent slow motion and sending the characters screaming into the street. The director intends to highlight Carrie’s emotional devastation but succeeds only in turning it into farce. It’s a scene out of a bad romance novel, and it yields uncharacteristically bad performances from good actors.
The subplots are a mixed bag. Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is faced with an interesting dilemma: a rift in her marriage to bartender Steve (David Eigenberg), but this storyline is announced abruptly and underdeveloped. It’s strange how lenient the film is with Steve’s behavior given the hard line taken against Big; one wonders where King and his characters draw the line for betrayal and why.
Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall), known for her unapologetic promiscuity, has settled into a relationship for five years with her public relations client, actor Smith Jerrod (Jason Lewis), but domestic bliss has made her restless. Despite an unnecessary interlude about a horny dog, this is the film’s most natural storyline, and it leads to a resolution that is mature and organic to character.
Charlotte (Kristin Davis), who spent the series pining, has settled into romantic bliss with her husband Harry (Evan Handler). She is a counterpoint to the other three and gives the film a shot of realism; not every couple can live happily ever after, but it would equally strain credulity for every couple to endure a contrived romantic quandary.
A fifth character is new to the group: Louise (Jennifer Hudson, Oscar winner for Dreamgirls), Carrie’s personal assistant. She also has romantic troubles, but hers feel tacked on to a screenplay too overstuffed to accommodate her.
King’s narrative shows admirable ambition, but he has bitten off more than he can chew. The running time is two and a half hours, much too long, but because of his excess stories much of it feels condensed; instead of an extended episode, the film plays like the Cliffs Notes for an entire seventh season. Consider this: Most films about reconnecting include one reunion scene in which the characters squeal upon seeing each other — this one includes four.
Why, then, does he waste so much time on consumerism? “Let’s stop chasing those boys and shop some more!” sings Fergie on the soundtrack. That’s a sentiment worthy of Bratz: The Movie. The Sex and the City women should be better than that.