So, now it's time for Sex.

Sex and the City, the movie, arrives this week in theaters, a decade after Carrie Bradshaw sported a tutu and Manolo Blahniks on the Manhattan streets, managing to look simultaneously adorable and absurd. It's been an entire presidential-election cycle since the HBO estro-festival went off the air.

Since then, western Brooklyn - to which Miranda sheepishly moved - has become a tony stroller paradise. The only people who can afford Manhattan are the very rich or the very old with rent-controlled apartments.

Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), who previously spent all of her currency on shoes ($40,000, to be precise), borrowed the down payment from Charlotte (Kristin Davis) for her Greenwich Village apartment. In the intervening years, Carrie's written three nonfiction best-sellers - despite giving the appearance of never working more than three minutes a day - and is comfortable in her own right.

Big (Chris Noth), so fictional as to have been deprived of a name, is now known as John James Preston. He and Carrie are deliriously happy. The movie's biggest moment of acquisitional porn arrives when Big gives her a huge walk-in closet in a Fifth Avenue penthouse, which elicited gasps at a New York screening.

In other words, it's a fairy tale.

Carrie, Charlotte and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) are now in their 40s. Samantha (Kim Cattrall) turns 50. So much time has passed, and yet the four friends still shop and love as if no time has passed at all. Despite its cultural currency, SATC always had more in common with those 1950s women-in-big-city movies like The Best of Everything than with any contemporary vehicles.

Carrie has Big, which is all she ever wanted, much more than marriage, which is why the movie's will-they-or-won't-they-wed plot seems a canard. Big is the Cinderella fantasy all over again: older, richer, taller, bigger - a man to protect, comfort and pamper her.

So, is SATC relevant in a recessionary, post-9/11 (which is never mentioned) New York? Or, as Carrie would ask in her cloying voice-overs, "has the moment of Sex passed?" Does it seem so dated that it can't possibly be new again? Then again, this season, Indiana Jones is back after a 19-year hiatus.

As the passel of magazine covers and pre-opening buzz attest, Sex and the City still resonates. Perhaps it's because the phenomenon was also a curious hybrid of being emotionally raw and culturally current while being visually and comically over-the-top.

SATC is a Bergdorf fairy tale, a world where Vogue is more essential than the city's dailies, where most crimes are sartorial and romantic. The women, though educated and street-smart (if the street happens to be Madison Avenue), are anti-intellectual. Indeed, the film's biggest shock comes when Carrie is seen reading the New Yorker.

Based loosely on the New York Observer columns of Candace Bushnell, the television series was birthed by one gay man, Darren Star, and shepherded by another, Michael Patrick King, who wrote and directed the movie. SATC has an idealized depiction of how modern women live, focusing on friendship and romance, with work a tertiary concern and family nonexistent.

Not one of these women has a mother, a father or siblings. The characters seem unmoored and alone except for each other. They're orphans in fancy dress clothes.

Manhattan, a central character, is as romanticized as in a Woody Allen movie. The series' success inspired countless young women to venture to New York for a glimpse of Carrie-land, where it rained shoes and handsome men, with the promise of a club opening every night and outfits that would never be repeated.

SATC's vision mixes emotional vulnerability with a hard-edged cultural sophistication. The female characters are cosmopolitan and professionally competent, yet often on the verge of coming emotionally apart at the seams. It was real and, then again, entirely unreal.

The characters' raw feelings yoked the audience, while the fancy trappings proved an escape. "To me, the most shocking thing about Sex and the City was not that the characters were physically naked, but they were emotionally naked," observes former series writer Cindy Chupack in Entertainment Weekly.

The phenomenon benefited from the inspired casting of Sarah Jessica Parker, a charmer with off-beat looks and innate comic timing, who made Carrie likable even in her most callow, superficial moments.

SATC has long been as bittersweet as it is funny, a tradition the movie continues, with many characters enveloped in ongoing disappointment.

It's also absurdly old-fashioned. While the four friends profess to being liberated modern women, that's only true with regard to sex. They have all the time in the world to shop and imbibe pink drinks.

Charlotte, educated in art, has abandoned her career for marriage, wedding happily once and wealthy twice. Samantha ostensibly manages her movie-star boyfriend Smith's (Jason Lewis) career. In reality, she's become the last thing she ever wanted: a kept woman, bored on the beach at Malibu. Her greatest temptations are playing with the girls and ogling the guy next door. (Note to fans: Lewis is not the prettiest thing in the movie. It's that guy Gilles Marini.) Only Miranda works hard, to the detriment of everything else.

Despite Carrie's celebrity and a personal assistant (Jennifer Hudson, a twofer representing women of color and larger than size 4), her career is nonexistent, a plot device in service of her true aims: landing Big. In the movie SATC, Carrie is seen typing precisely one word: Love.

Despite the movie's title, it's the only word that ever mattered. Now, we'll see if the movie can deliver the summer of Sex.

In Travel

Tour the N.Y.C. spots that Carrie and her "Sex and the City" friends made famous. N5.