In over six years of attending press screenings, I have never seen anything like the furore that accompanied last night’s showing of Sex and the City 2 in Leicester Square. The huge queue outside the cinema soon turned into a scrum, as women dressed in their finest pushed and shoved to get through the door and secure a prime seat. Inside, the atmosphere was palpable; this is undoubtedly one of the most hotly anticipated films of the year, and legions of SatC fans are at a fever-pitch of excitement to see how the lives of the fab four have moved on in the two years since the (excellent) first film. So, were those lucky few who had managed to secure on the hottest tickets in town rewarded for their efforts?
Sadly, no. And it’s a disappointing blow that will be felt anyone who has been a fan since the show’s inception in 1998; writer/director Michael Patrick King rides roughshod over the setup, characters and ethos that made SatC so great, and replaces it with a film that is, at best, a cringe-worthy ‘Carrie On Abroad’ and, at worst, misguided and offensive. And that it comes from the pen of a man who has been involved with the show since its beginning, it’s an unforgivable error of judgement.
A charming opening sequence offers a recap; as Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) explains how much has changed since she arrived in New York in 1986, brief flashbacks show how her and best friends Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Samantha (Kim Cattrall) and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) looked when they first met. It’s a neat and funny way of establishing the long friendship between the girls and is the high point of the film. As the gang attend the gay wedding of Stanford (Willie Garson) and Anthony (Mario Cantone) a sequence of such camp extravagance that it teeters between kitsch and crazy – there are warning signs of what’s to come; the girls snigger over the proceedings as if they have never encountered homosexuals before, despite having been friends with the betrothed for years.
A passing comment about children directed at Carrie and now-husband Mr Big (Chris Noth) sets the theme, for the loose narrative concerns all four ladies dealing with gender expectations being foist upon them from all corners. Now that Carrie is married, she worries about turning into a dull, predictable wife and mourns her lost hedonism; Miranda is struggling to juggling her career and her family; Charlotte finally has the two daughters she has longed for but is finding motherhood difficult; and Samantha is fighting against ageism and the menopause to retain her sex appeal in her 50s. All valid and interesting concerns, sure, but King’s decision to move the action from New York – a city that understands and suits the characters – and use the Middle East as an arena in which to confront such gender politics proves an ill-conceived and fatal one.
Accompanying Samantha on an all-expenses-paid PR trip to a luxury hotel in Abu Dhabi, the girls arrive determined to enjoy everything the country has to offer. Cue visits to the local markets, beautiful desert sunsets and camel trekking – all in jaw-dropping outfits, of course. Even though it was shot in Morocco, a lot of it plays like an advertising campaign for the delights of the UAE, with some line of dialogue sounding like they’ve been clipped directly from a tourism brochure. And things go from bad to worse as the free-spirited girls come up against the Islamic laws of their host country; observing women wearing face-covering burqas while enjoying a spot of lunch, Miranda comments that having to lift a veil every time you wish to eat a French Fry demonstrates a serious commitment to fast food, while Carrie states ‘It’s like they don’t want them to have a voice.’ Distilling such a fundamental and controversial topic into such a banal conversation is awkward and condescending, both to the culture they are observing and he audience to whom they are speaking.
From then on it’s an orgy of offence, most keenly felt in Samantha’s outrageous behaviour, which flies in the face (literally) of local beliefs. Even the girls’ rousing rendition of feminist anthem ‘I Am Woman/Hear Me Roar’ at a local karaoke bar – a sequence which would have been a show-stopper in the right context – seems wildly inappropriate, like they are trying to pound a round peg into a square hole. Rather than concentrating on the very Western concerns of Carrie et al, SatC has turned itself into a forum for intellectual discussion about the wider world and proven itself to be woefully inadequate as such.
And if all that wasn’t enough, King has also distilled his four iconic central characters down to their most basic elements. It’s Samantha who comes off worse; she has become an over-sexed and unlikeable charicature of herself, whose desire to be desired comes at the expense of any self-respect. She is a far cry from the sexy, sassy woman of the original series. The others, too, don’t come off much better; Miranda’s decision to ditch her corporate image is dealt with in a trite way that doesn’t do justice to her hard work, while Charlotte’s genuine fears are explored in a too-short scene that is one of just a handful of real moments in the film. Even Carrie, poster girl for a generation, is irritating – we’ve watch her chase Big for years, and now she’s got him, she’s bored. True, the notion of whether reality can ever live up to fantasy is an interesting one, but her behaviour here is less intelligent modern woman and more contrary teenager. And the on-screen spark between the women has been lost somewhere in the off-screen minefield of contract negotiations and public feuds; they seem less like loyal bosom buddies and more like a quartet thrust together for a reunion no-one really wants.
No-one, that is, apart from the fans. Much has been made about the fact that fan demand green-lit this sequel and, indeed, after the first film it was tempting to find out what came next. At the London premiere, Sarah Jessica Parker herself said that she doesn’t care about the critics as “the movie isn’t made for them. This movie has been made for our audience… they are all that matters.” But Parker is crediting the ordinary SatC audience with about as much intelligence and taste as King has bestowed in his characters; you don’t have to be a critic to notice the film’s glaring flaws. For while the fashion is show-stopping and the visuals sumptuous and luxurious, this sequel rips the heart and soul out of the franchise. And this long-standing fan can’t be alone in saying please, no more. Let Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha bow out with dignity, before they are forever tainted by such disappointing efforts as this.
Stars Sarah Jessica Parker, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon, Kim Cattrall
Director and Screenplay Michael Patrick King
Distributor Warner Bros
Running Time 2hrs 26mins
Opens May 28