Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sex and the City vs. Sex and the City 2

Yes, I freely admit it, I do like the TV series Sex and the City. I know it probably isn't the most sophisticated kind of entertainment around but there is just something about watching the series with your closest friends and eating homemade ice cream. Furthermore, I'm really puzzled that one of the most persistent reactions when I do amit to liking it in front of people of the opposite gender remains to point out the supposed misandry of the series. Excuse me? You can call Sex and the City a number of things (distasteful, stupid, bland, stereotypical and decadent spring to mind) but misandry is most certainly not among them. Of course, men and their actions are occasionally criticised, yet they are only one of many things that is criticised in the series, more prevalent maybe being the fashion choices of people around our four protagonists, their own behaviour and certain sexual kinks that they may come across. In fact, it is often in themselves that the protagonists seek fault and try to find the reason of why their relationship isn't working out, finally blaming themselves more often than not. Now I also wouldn't go as far as saying Sex and the City is openly misogynist, as some people claim, either. Personally I have found that watching Sex and the City is mainly an ambivalent experience.

But I didn't want to write this review about the entirety of the series, in fact I wanted to compare the two movies that have been released after the series ended. Let's get right to the point of it, shall we? I enjoyed Sex and the City 1 very much, enough even to go and watch it at the cinema and buy it on DVD for repeated viewing! But even though I did want to enjoy Sex and the City 2, I was left completely disappointed. I was completely puzzled that the same writers and directors could bring forth such different movie experiences. It felt like a whole other team had been working on the second one. I do think that maybe the underlying difference as to why I liked the first one and didn't like the second one might have been the underlying message in the movies. In the first movie, the underlying message of the main storyline (which is Carrie's wedding being planned, Mr. Big not showing up, her being abandoned and finally in the end marrying after all) is that this wedding turned into a monstrous and exagerated thing, suddenly being more about the form than about the content, being more about the big brandname wedding dress and the sophisticated guest list and all the insignificant things instead of being about two people who want to be together and thus it couldn't work out anymore. When the two people remembered the true reason for getting married they realised they could do it just like that, without a fancy schmancy designer wedding gown or make a spectacle of whom will be invited. So in the end the message goes against that blind materialism, actually identifies it as a reason as to why the pair couldn't get married. In a quite clever way, it doesn't let either part of the pair off the hook and places all the blame on the other person, both made mistakes and had to apologise for them. To me, that is a fairly good message. I also liked the secondary plot lines, one for each character. Samantha struggles with having moved to the other coast and being away from New York and finally has to decide where she really wants to be - with her friends or with her boyfriend. Miranda kicks Steve out when he miserably admits to having cheated on her once and must ask herself whether she wants to end it with him permanently or take the hard path of trying to forgive him eventually. Finally Charlotte is pregnant even though doctors have told her before that this is very unlikely to ever happen and she has to find a way to deal with her worries that anything she might do, such as daily jogging or stress might be bad for the baby. Alright, that last storyline really isn't that exciting and insightful but nevertheless, they are all storylines that dealt with topics that I could relate to at least in some way and they also dealt with them in clever and honest ways.

Overall I did enjoy the first movie a lot and naturally I was excited for the second one. Sadly, it didn't live up to my (admittedly high) expectations. One of the things that I felt was really difficult was getting into "the flow" of the movie because for the most part it just felt as if there was none. The movie starts out with a gay wedding which is funny but extremely stereotypical and nearly the antithesis to the humble cute little wedding that we saw in the movie before that, completely bombastic with swans and glitter and Liza Minelli. After that wedding we get the exposition to the storylines that are going to be pursued through that movie. Charlotte's new baby is constantly bawling and even though she has a nanny available almost 24/7 she feels extremely upset by it. Samantha is starting to feel the onset of menopause. Miranda is frustrated in her job, which leaves her almost no time at all for her family. And finally Carrie and Mr. Big have problems settling into their married life. While she wants to go out and have dinner at glamorous restaurants (at least once in a while) he prefers to stay in, eat take-away food and finally things escalate when he buys a big flatscreen TV "for Carrie" at their anniversary.

Then for some reason our four protagonists fly to Abu Dhabi to take some time off and relax. In perfect imperialist manner they reside at the finest hotel available and each have a personal servant, which takes care of them 24 hours a day if they so instruct them. This was maybe the first thing that made me sort of uncomfortable. A bunch of rich girls fly to the Arab Emirates and live there like princesses. There is even a scene where they drive by a pair of (presumably poor) goat shepherds in a big white Mercedes Benz (if I recall correctly), cheering and waving at them. Am I the only person who finds this highly tasteless? I really don't know. Carrie is also faced with the release of her new book, which gets a bad review but somehow it's hard for the audience to care about such a minor thing, when they are in a country where the gap between rich and poor is so big and yet they are sitting there and living in complete decadence. Of course you could also say the same thing about the episodes that take place in the USA, but in that movie you also have this exoticising orientalist gaze on the foreign country, which makes me uncomfortable, especially in the light of the most recent wars that the USA participated or is participating in. I just didn't feel like "rich girl comes to strange country but look how luxurious everything is!!" was a tasteful depiction of the Middle East at all. To be fair, Carrie also seems to be uncomfortable at the thought of having a servant but it doesn't make up for how gratuitous they make use of the luxury that is offered to them.

I also have to say that the storylines all progress in a kind of bland and stupid way. Samanthas heat flushes and vaginal dryness magically disappear when she encounters some hot guy and Charlotte and Miranda's storylines pretty much peak in a drinking night where they complain (or some may say 'bitch and whine') about how hard they have it in life, Miranda with her job and Charlotte with her unruly child. Carrie runs into Aidan at a bazaar and ends up having dinner with him and kissing him. This is played up to be something hugely dramatic and finally all four protagonists unite to debate whether or not Carrie should tell Mr. Big about this. In the end she does tell him, he doesn't pick her up from the airport, they aren't talking for a bit and then they get together again, Miranda quits her job, Samantha has sex with the new guy and Charlotte occasionally takes some time off and feels more relaxed. The end. Seriously, all of these storylines, compared to the ones that they dealt with in the first movie were just plain stupid and the resolutions that they found weren't very innovative at all.

Then of course you also have the social commentary on gender politics in Abu Dhabi. I think that they meant well but everything comes off as rather hamfisted. It all ends with our four protagonists entering a secret hideout of Arabian women, who throw off their burkas to reveal... the latest fashion collection from New York! See? These women, even though they wear burkas, are just like us! Awww! Yeah, I think they really did mean well, but it just came across as completely stupid. At least to me. Equalling fashion with femininity or even with feminism is rather questionable.

What I enjoyed the most about the first film, which was the dealing with problems of every day life in a believable and intelligent way, was completely absent from the second movie. Moreover, we have a lot of really questionable stuff. I think the way in which the other culture was portrayed in this movie was very insensitive and generally dumb. In the light of recent events I think it's just uncomfortable to watch such a careless depiction of the Middle East on screen. And where the message of the first movie was "less is more" and "content over form" the second movie comes across as the antithesis of this. Thus it wasn't very surprising for me in the end that I didn't like it at all. The first movie was a piece of heartwarming and clever entertainment but my verdict for the second movie is: soulless, materialist and dumb piece of junk.

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