Sunday, June 1, 2008

A New Franchise?

Sex and the City
Written and directed by Michael Patrick King
Starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon

Davis, Parker, Nixon and Cattrall
Carrie and the girls return in the big-screen version of Sex and the City, and the old adage that “bigger is better” should be amended to “Mr. Big is not always better” -- at least where our heroine is concerned.

Series guru Michael Patrick King has written and directed this rather flabby, occasionally embarrassing, but in the end modestly entertaining movie version of the hit HBO series, which shows us once and for all what it would feel like to sit through five episodes of Sex and the City back-to-back (to-back-to-back-to-back).

As we are reacquainted with the series' fearless foursome, nothing much has changed for them. Writer Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) is still seeing Mr. Big (Chris Noth); lawyer Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) lives with husband Steve (David Eigenberg) and their son in Brooklyn; agent Samantha (Kim Cattrall) is stuck in L.A. with her boy toy Smith (Jason Lewis); and housewife Charlotte (Kristin Davis) lives blissfully with husband Harry (Evan Handler) and their adopted daughter.

King’s decision to keep his ladies in the relationships they had when the series ended smacks of the kind of contrivance that’s only trumped by the unraveling of three-quarters of these relationships during the course of this two-and-a-half hour movie: Carrie and Big’s wedding plans go up in smoke, Miranda’s marriage is rocked by infidelity, and Samantha decides that there’s more to life than her gorgeous hunk of a boyfriend.

If it seems that I’m simply making lists in this review, that's no different than what King done; the movie is a checklist of everything fans loved about the series, repeated ad nauseum on a larger screen. There are montages of Carrie trying on various old outfits for her friends’ mocking disapproval, and of her wearing various designer wedding gowns for a Vogue photo shoot. We hear Carrie’s voiceovers, which are ostensibly excerpts from her writing. Samantha offers her usual sexual-innuendo-laden zingers, although she’s surprisingly quiet upon seeing her 50th birthday cake. And dull old Miranda and Charlotte are on hand, living their less-than-glamorous lives in Carrie’s glitzy wake.

I’ve never gotten the appeal of Sarah Jessica Parker, so I've always considered Carrie the least interesting member of this quartet. Cynthia Nixon is too good an actress to play such a poorly conceived character, but at least her Miranda has a few effective, anger-filled moments at her husband’s expense. As Charlotte, Kristin Davis can somehow act eternally chirpy without becoming a major annoyance. Kim Cattrall as Samantha remains the franchise’s best asset in that she can take even King’s crudest, corniest lines and make them sound like they were written by Mae West in collaboration with Don Rickles; unfortunately, her masterly comic timing is underused in this film.

Also underused are all of the men, not to mention Candice Bergen, whose brief scene as the editor of Vogue hints at a pared-down subplot. And while we’re on subplots, it’s too bad that the one involving charmless Jennifer Hudson as Louise, Carrie’s new assistant, wasn’t edited out completely; the bar scene between the two women falls so flat that it takes awhile for the movie to recover from it.

No one goes to see Sex and the City looking for innovative filmmaking. People simply want the fantasies that these ladies are living out for them, and King graciously obliges. Manhattan looks great, of course, especially during an unlikely New Year’s Eve snowfall (when’s the last time that happened?) and in the lovely nocturnal shot of a downtown street that ends the film.

Still, if humongous box-office grosses turn this into a movie franchise, we need a savvier chronicler than King to helm the sequel. Why not see what Kimberly Peirce, Bonnie Hunt, or even Julie Taymor could bring to this material?

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