(On Cable TV, April 2017) When I say that my pet name for Sex and the City 2 would be “Middle-Aged Women Wish Fulfillment: The Sequel”, I’m not being as dismissive as you may think. For all of the middle-aged male wish fulfillment out there (and 2011 did have its own gender-flipped Dubai-set fantasy in Impossible Mission: Ghost Protocol except no one called it “male wish fulfillment”), there is a need for other kinds of escapist fantasies in cinema. Sex and the City 2 is aimed at a particular audience, and in that context I encourage it to be as pandering as possible given that I’m already getting plenty of pandering for my own demographic subset, thank you. This being said, I can’t in good conscience let the film skate away on the highly problematic sequences that it contains. Never mind the length of the movie, low-octane romantic stakes, general faux pas in making romantic sequels, first-world problems and over-privileged heroines: There’s a lot worse to be found in the way our four protagonists head over to Dubai on someone else’s dime, are lavishly served by indentured servants, flaunt local conventions like ugly Americans and are shocked when there are consequences to what they do. There is a particularly baffling sequence toward the end that has Kim Cattrall’s character acting out in ways that aren’t just offensive to hardline conservative but to anyone with the slightest bit of sense and respect. Sex and the City 2 tries to have it both ways as well, first as vicarious living in luxurious quarters, then by acknowledging the ugly underside of this luxury, then portraying its protagonists as victims of the trouble that they themselves get into. As much as I’d like to like the film (snip away much of the third quarter and it becomes far more palatable), at worst Sex and the City 2 tries to impose its own artificial materialistic/hedonistic values on a clearly identified Other and at best settles for an obnoxious fantasy. And I say this as someone who likes Sarah Jessica Parker, Chris Noth and the others. What a let-down.
(On TV, January 2017) You could retitle Sex and the City as “Wish Fulfillment for Middle-Aged Women: The Movie” and I’m not sure it would be entirely dismissive. But I’m being too harsh: I’m not in the target audience for the series to which this is a follow-up, and even I have to admit that there is a contagious enthusiasm to the movie’s most entertaining moment. Shopping, trips, contentment and inner peace—what’s not to like, even though the details may differ? Watching this as someone with only the barest knowledge of the TV show (to the point of: “Wow, I did not expect that much sex/nudity in a movie called Sex in the City!”) is strange—while the film doesn’t forget to have a plot, it’s often bare-bones in the way it presents its characters or moves them through the motions of their dramatic arc. There are lengthy digressions simply to scratch the wish fulfillment of its audience. It boldly sets off to hyper-consumption for no other reason than it can do so. And yet, and yet … it works. It’s a good time. It’s the kind of movie that reassures you that there is good in the world, even though it may be more easily attainable with a credit card with a ludicrously high limit. Sarah Jessica Parker is very likable in the main role despite odd script-dictated behaviour, and Kim Cattrall remains the most interesting of the three other main cast members, while Chris Noth remains the ultimate Mr. Big. Sex and the City may be a wish fulfillment film, but then again so are most big-budget movies—and for some strange reasons, few movie critics ever mention how we should be dismissing action films as power fantasies of seeing average guys shooting terrorists in the head to save the world/wife/kids. From that perspective, Sex and the City is a welcome complement.
(Video on Demand, June 2013) Newsflash: comedy aimed at middle-class Midwestern Americans espouses and promotes middle-class Midwestern values. In the generally unobjectionable (if rather empty-headed) Did You Hear About The Morgans?, a couple of upper-class newyorkers accidentally see something that lands them in the witness protection program, where they are relocated to an isolated Wyoming town where they discover the values of hard work, law-and-order enforcement and factory outlets. The script practically writes itself around the fish-out-of-water gags and the impending-arrival-of-hired-killer ticking clock, and the result is just about as formulaic as it can be. Fortunately, the film is more or less saved by two pairs of performances: Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker as the amusingly estranged lead couple that has to re-learn life in the slow lane, as well as Sam Elliott and Mary Steenburgen as the no-nonsense cops that host them. Did You Hear About The Morgans? isn’t particularly sophisticated, but then again consider the broad target audience: the easy jokes all line up in a row, and the ending is as pat as it needs to be. The actors don’t have to stretch their usual screen persona, and everyone is more or less happy by the time the credits roll.