At last week's Philadelphia screening of
Sex and the City 2
, there were, counting generously, six straight men in the audience, including Mayor Nutter, who never struck me as a Blahnik man. He favors Carrie ("always getting into all kinds of dilemmas") and Charlotte ("wonderfully naive, yet there's a smart way about her").
This was the mayor's fourth screening in two years in office: the finale of HBO's The Wire, Sex and the City, Law-Abiding Citizen, and SATC 2. Crime, sex, vigilante justice, and more sex. You know, the basics.
The movie is, like most of its shoes, preposterous. That's why they sell popcorn. But the title is false advertising: There's almost no sex, unless you count shopping, because the story's set in Abu Dhabi.
The location was chosen, according to writer and director Michael Patrick King, because "I thought about where there's a lot of money with no shame attached."
No shame about money, perhaps, but certainly plenty regarding women and sex.
Such silly obstacles as facts didn't stop the filmmakers from depicting the four friends in inappropriate, account-draining clothing quaffing pink drinks and enticing men in public displays of seduction.
Purdah the thought. Aren't our relations in the Middle East bollixed enough?
SATC 2 is an estrogen version, though barely updated, of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby's road picture, with the gals all playing Dorothy Lamour. The movie is so absurdly, offensively tone deaf and wrong that Abu Dhabi, never a nation to squelch a commercial opportunity, declined to be photographed. Dubai did, too, and it could use the money. (Morocco serves as a stand-in.) The film isn't even being released in those two emirates.
My friend Lisa, who works in Abu Dhabi, says that although Westerners there do imbibe cocktails and wear bikinis at the beach clubs, modernity only goes so far for the Muslim residents, especially women.
"Today I went to a graduation ceremony at Abu Dhabi Women's College," she reports, "and the director's speech was videotaped because he is a man and was not allowed in the room."
Sex and the City debuted in June 1998 on HBO, when the premium channel still produced series about women. The show was equally funny and bittersweet, as the quartet of friends tried to achieve success in Manhattan. The key to the women's happiness wasn't in the sauciness of the show's title, but in their enduring friendship.
I found it ironic that Carrie's greatest struggle, besides putting together a sensible ensemble, was making peace with Mr. Big, their relationship a throwback to those 1950s movies like The Best of Everything.
Christopher Noth's character epitomized the antiquated female ideal of better: older, taller, wiser, randier, and much, much richer. That Sarah Jessica Parker and Noth have zero chemistry was beside the point; the winning chemistry was always between her and her friends. Big seemed more like a bank account than a beating heart, and the question was whether that was ever going to be enough for a free spirit in a tank top and tutu.
What made the series so touching was the inevitability of the characters' mistakes. In one episode, Carrie wanted to buy her apartment but realized she had been so stupid as to spend the down payment on shoes. She'd done the dumb thing, making her own money only to blow it on surface charms.
Now, it's a dozen years later. Carrie's Manhattan was attacked, we're at war in the Middle East, and there's a recession, somewhere. But SATC 2 is what Tom Wolfe would label pure plutography, porn about wealth.
Carrie and Big are married, but life is as boring as can be because they still have zero chemistry. She has spent two years decorating, a clear definition of hell, only to learn that a couch, even a designer one, is ultimately destined for watching television, not canoodling.
Charlotte has two girls, a full-time nanny and no career. She's overwhelmed. Miranda has one son, a full-time nanny, and a career with a bad boss. She's overwhelmed. Samantha, deprived of her arsenal of hormones and creams, is seized by hot flashes. The message: Middle age stinks, even for a size 0 with unlimited funds.
And this, apparently, is how you land in Abu Dhabi, where wealth has no shame.
Patricia Field's costume budget was reported to be $10 million, though she now denies the cost. In the karaoke scene, Sarah Jessica Parker wears a $50,000 couture getup, one of 48 wardrobe changes. Possibly SATC 2's saddest moment comes when a quartet of elegant Arab women retreat to a private room and remove their abayas and niqabs to show friends their obscenely expensive designer frocks. In the end, equality, enlightenment, and fulfillment can be best attained by spending money on clothes, even if most people will never see them.
Setting a movie about female entitlement and pleasure in a Muslim country where women are denied so much defies logic, though not, perhaps, box-office appeal. I'm all for dumb fun, but this movie is 12 years too late and spectacularly wrong. If you insult people so many different ways, eventually they become numb to the flogging.