I don’t make much secret about being an avid reader of the New York Times movie reviews. Though my blogging brethren (and sistren) offer prime insight, I came of age as a critic reading A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis, oscillating between loving and hating them as my allegiances and beliefs have grown over the years. This week, Manohla added to the conversation surrounding Sex and the City 2, which was reviewed for the Times by Mr. Scott. We rarely get to see the opinion of both critics save for year-end roundups, so this is an extra treat so close to release.
I haven’t seen SATC2 yet, so one really ought to take my thoughts with a grain of salt. I’ve enjoyed the smattering of episodes of the series that I’ve seen and I found the first film funny, if grating. New York on film holds a place dear to my heart. It seems even its most gifted celluloid sculptors have had trouble reproducing it in the last decade (I’m talking to you, Woody Allen). The dialogue around this latest fantasia, as Ms. Dargis points out, is largely related to questions of ethnocentricity and racial sensitivities:
To borrow a tactic from the TV show, which invariably featured Carrie posing the week’s Big Question to her readers: Was “Sex” actually 50 percent worse the second time around? Not from where I was seated, though I happily concede that the sequel is about as bad as the original. They’re just lousy in different ways. The new sex puns (“Lawrence of my labia”) are as wince inducing as the old, and Mr. King’s direction remains strictly small screen. What has changed are the locations: in the first film, the friends visit Mexico (funny!), but this time, they yuk it up in the Middle East (not funny!). But what has really changed? The characters, the critics, the context: how quickly yesterday’s pleasure can pop, just like an economic bubble.
I have to agree with her. Like Michael Bay’s Transformers 2 before it, this film makes the perfect target for any number of derisions. Mexico is funny because we don’t mind getting a little racist when it comes to our neighbors to the south. When it comes to the Middle East, we tread softly because of national tensions and, honestly, personal fears. So I’ll give Manohla, and this film, that much.
Where I get annoyed, however, is in her closing:
This and other scenes of the women with Muslims are often awkward, though that’s partly a function of Mr. King’s direction. Yet there’s also something touching about a few of these encounters, as when the women wonder how you eat fries when you’re wearing a veil, a question that strikes me as an uncharacteristically honest admission of difference in a mainstream American movie. Too bad the women weren’t guys and went to Las Vegas, where they could have indulged in the kind of critically sanctioned masculine political incorrectness that made “The Hangover” such a darling.
I did not like The Hangover all that much, and I completely agree with her sentiment that masculine stupidity often goes unquestioned onscreen. However, that doesn’t exactly make for much of an excuse. The first Sex and the City film was lauded for its ability to rake in millions while boasting a cast of female leads, a rarity in this business. The same goes for the show, though it should be noted that today (not in 1998 when the show first aired) women are in control of television programming in a big way. Phenomena like Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives are a testament to this shift.
Regardless, does the status of Carrie and pals offer leeway on their level of political correctness? For my part, no. Nor should it let The Hangover guys off the hook, but the difference there seems to be that that film knew exactly what it wanted to be. If SATC2 actually is a bad film, then hopefully it is a bad film on merit alone. We should not forget that we now live in a world where a woman has won an Oscar for Best Director, and for a film with no female leads. I think it is short sighted to chalk negative reactions up to critical sexism.
But I haven’t seen the film and I’m a dude, so what do I know?