NEW YORK - Early in Sex and the City 2, Charlotte, Carrie's stay-at-home-mom-on-Park-Avenue friend, is making pink-frosted cupcakes with her daughters.
One of the girls is also finger-painting, and suddenly she smacks her mom on the rear, leaving two bright-red handprints on a cream-colored Valentino skirt. "Lily!" Charlotte screams in fury. "This is vintage!"
Let's leave aside the credulity-straining sight of a mother, any mother, making cupcakes and supervising finger-painting in vintage Valentino, let alone cream Valentino.
Because the scene is typical of the film in another way. Charlotte, who doesn't work but has a live-in nanny, is clearly not suffering a whit from the recession that's hit New York since the first film. Neither is Carrie or Miranda - nor Samantha, unless you can blame menopause on the recession.
In fact, the downturn is virtually nowhere to be seen in Sex and the City 2 - not in the still crazy-expensive fashions, the spacious apartments, or the wedding that opens the movie, featuring swans, a chorus in white tie and tails, and a wedding cake dripping in crystals.
As Carrie might say, "Recession, schmecession!"
And most fans, if not critics, are saying: "Great! Because that's sorta what we came for."
That's how Brayden LeBlanc sees it. "Listen, movies are fantasy," said the marketing student in Los Angeles. "This isn't a documentary. I don't want to see a recession in this movie!"
LeBlanc says that's even truer since he's had his own economic hardships as a student living on little money. "I'm going through my own financial issues," he says, "so I don't need to see it on the screen. This is supposed to be fun."
Lindy Christopher feels the same way. Recently laid off from her job at a medical center, she accompanied two friends at a Thursday-afternoon showing of the film in midtown Manhattan - the three had come straight from a college graduation ceremony for one of them.
"Everyone has a different life," said Christopher, 26. "This is their life, not mine," she said of Carrie and her friends. "It didn't bother me."
Not that the group wasn't a little disappointed in the film - at well over two hours it was too long, they said, the plot a little convoluted, Samantha's sexual quips a little, well, gross. But they still enjoyed themselves, which is more than one can say for most film critics, who thus far have savaged the film.
"Callow, garish, ghastly, grisly," wrote the Wall Street Journal. "Enervated, crass, and gruesomely caricatured," wrote the Washington Post. A "mortifying mess," wrote USA Today. "Desperate, grating, and a little sad," wrote the New York Times. "Over-the-top ridiculous," wrote the Associated Press.
So maybe they liked it overseas? "Incredibly boring," wrote Britain's Guardian newspaper, which also said the film was "on its way to becoming one of the most critically derided films of all time."
And yet the movie was also being called critic-proof. If the lines of dressed-up women at theaters weren't enough of a sign, Paul Dergarabedian, box office analyst for Hollywood.com, said the film made $14.2 million on Thursday alone, including $3 million in midnight showings. Over its first five days, it collected $51.4 million. (The first SATC movie, in 2008, brought in about $57 million on its first weekend, a three-day span.)
Ask Olivia Wong, who rushed out from work Thursday to catch a showing in Manhattan with two coworkers - to be followed, as so many Sex and the City showings are, by going out on the town.
"I haven't read any reviews," Wong said. "I wanted to come here with a clean slate."
While Wong and her friends didn't care about the flaunting of wealth in the film - in fact, they looked forward to it - not everyone feels that way.
Kasondra Williams is holding off a while before seeing the movie. She loved the TV show in its early days, when the characters were "young and cute and trendy," she said. But she's less interested in their lives now that they are older and wealthier.
"A lot of people that are going to watch this movie are not as rich as they are," said Williams, 35, who works at a museum and as a part-time stylist for photo shoots. "It's kind of a slap in the face to them."
As for the argument that the movie is merely escapist entertainment, Williams doesn't quite buy it. "OK, but then we come back to our own reality after watching this and feel even more miserable," she says. "I also don't like the message that as long as you look cute, everything's going to fall into place."
Indeed, everything has fallen beautifully into place for Carrie as the movie begins. She's settled into a lavishly appointed Upper East Side apartment with the still super-successful Big, with a closet as big as many bedrooms. She still has her old apartment, too, stuffed with all her things - it wasn't a good time to sell, she tells us in narration.
Miranda is still earning plenty as a lawyer, though she's unhappy with her job. Samantha still has a cool Manhattan office and an assistant, but she complains that she needs a break after two years of bad business - which is what leads her to bring the others on an all-expenses-paid PR trip to Abu Dhabi, to meet a client. There, they stay in a lavish resort where they each have a personal butler.
"I thought, OK, it's a depression," explained the film's writer and director, Michael Patrick King, to the website collider.com. "In the Great Depression what did people do? And I thought extravagance. Let's put them on a big vacation."
After all, he said, "Nobody wants to see Carrie Bradshaw selling apples under a bridge. That would be just depressing."
King seems to have judged his audience well.
"The flashy clothing, apartments, gifts, and shoes are what women are looking for when they see a movie like this," said Melanie Gagliano, 24, who works for a commercial production company in New York.
The four women, she says, have worked hard for two years, and deserve a break. "But I didn't want to hear about that tough reality when watching this movie," she said. "I wanted to be sucked back into the Sex and the City glamorous world.