is the word 'diary' better than the word 'blog'? probably not.

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how I got defined by lack and lived to tell the story.

I just saw Sex and the City 2 (the new movie), and I really liked it. There are things about it that I would do differently, and of course there are plenty of places it goes where I wouldn’t go (it was ever thus with this crew), but I deeply appreciated some of its storylines.

The first question that will arise here is, well, what do you have to say about all those bad reviews? Those reviews! They are so rabid and cruel! How could they exist alongside what you are calling a good movie?, you ask. Well, I’ll let Jodi Dean speak to that, because I think she did it very well, and she covers many of the bases.

But I’m going to move on to what I liked, to save myself from ressentiment. (Jodi escapes that trap by telling the story as she does… but when I tried to write my own response to the critics, it quickly began to be a kind of writing I just don’t do. And so, moving on….)

I like the way the movie dealt with the current version of what the show was always about: how these women rely on their friendships to get them through what is rough about the rest of life. Miranda is being treated badly by a misogynist boss, and her job is leaving her very little time for her family. Charlotte is feeling the heavy pressure of motherhood and guilt about feeling it as pressure. Samantha is entering menopause and trying to hold on to the libido that has been so central to her life. And Carrie is trying to figure out what it means to be married and happy without children. These are all real problems that real women might face, and the film deals with them squarely and for the most part well.

[That’s why it is so perplexing that at least one critic thinks Miranda quits her job because her husband tells her to and that Charlotte is more interested in vintage Valentino than motherhood. If that were the plot, then SATC2 would be some sort of apocalypse of feminism, like The Rules, and not a movie I would recommend. It makes me wonder what movie that critic saw. Or how old she is.]

I loved the conversation between Miranda and Charlotte about how hard it is to be a mother, even when you wouldn’t trade it for anything. I felt for Miranda’s glass ceiling predicament, how it invaded all the hours of her life because she is an ambitious woman trying to balance being true to herself with existing in a man’s world. I appreciated Samantha’s struggle with hormones and aging. And I was really moved by the Carrie/Big portion of the story, perhaps because it is closest to my own. I even have a huge closet now to prove it, heh (though, no, no Louboutins or Blahniks… just lots of Fluevogs). What I mean is: they are a couple, together and happy, not having kids, and facing a world where their relationship means nothing. If you are a woman in your forties (and I’m not even married, to make matters that much more indiscernible) with no plans for children, many people will think you are selfish, or will assume that you are infertile and sad. But most will not even go that far. They will simply fail to imagine that you have a life at all. A nothingness will appear where your life might otherwise have been in the narrative that another person’s brain gives to the world and your place in it. A childless woman is defined by lack, as is a childless marriage or an unmarried couple (with or without children). It happens all the time.

There’s that. But Carrie and Big also have a relationship with each other, and that takes work. It takes work not to take each other for granted, to love each other actively instead of passively, and to keep being who you are while also being a person who isn’t single, who is part of a couple. And to do all this while living a life that others, if they see it at all, see as lack. These are all struggles, inasmuch as you have to work to make love, relationships, or your own self “happen,” and life will often make things difficult, as it tends to do.

I appreciated all this, and was moved by it. I loved the movie for those reasons.

I even thought that Samantha’s struggle with being who she is in Abu Dhabi was fine, but was taken way too far. SPOILER ALERT. If they had left it at the point where she got arrested for kissing on the beach and then lost her business contact and had to leave the country early, that would have been fine, and necessary to the story. (You can’t move SATC to the UAE without someone getting in trouble.) But that whole offensive scene in the spice market where she’s wearing shorts, having hotflashes, sweating and looking crazy, and then someone grabs her purse and condoms go flying everywhere, and then she taunts the crowd of Arab men who gather around to taunt her? Too much. Insulting, not necessary to the plot and possibly damaging to the overall storyline.

The rest of the insensitivity about religious and cultural conventions one could have rested squarely on the shoulders of Samantha the fictional character, for whom none of this would have been out of character—there is no way Samantha of Sex and the City can work out being a woman in a society where women are veiled. No duh. Miranda spends most of the movie trying to get Samantha to behave respectfully. But that last sequence was too much, and tends to make the whole story look bad rather than simply showing the truth of what it would mean to put Samantha in Abu Dhabi. There was a missed opportunity for real depth about that, covered over with an insulting caricature of the “problem.”

So, yes, there are places the movie goes where I wouldn’t go. Some of them aren’t offensive like the episode I just described. There has always been an aspect of SATC that was a bit too pat, too quick with the witty response, when wit covers over what could have been depth. Sometimes the jokes aren’t funny. But, well, I am not one to require that the world give me only places where I would go. I can appreciate the quirks and failings and choices of these characters, even when I don’t see my own life in them or would have made different choices (or mistakes) (or jokes). But the show, the two movies, and these four characters have given me so much over the years (here's one example), so much understanding of various things about my life that would otherwise have remained way outside the lands of television portrayal—even the tremendous way in which friendships have loomed so much larger in my life, and redeemed me from so many troubles, more than any traditional family structure—that I am willing to let the I-wouldn’t-go-there moments pass, just as I do when one of my own best friends makes a joke that I would never have uttered.

As I left the theater I was mulling all this over, and wondering about the strangely hostile fever-pitch of the bad reviews… and it hit me in the stomach all of a suddenlike, that the movie is Miranda in the workplace. This is not true of every criticism of the movie. There are plenty of valid reasons not to like it. But my concern, right now, is that many of the reviews, whether authored by men or women, may themselves be caught up in a kind of unreflective misogyny—unreflective because it is so deeply embedded in our culture that it is largely invisible. It parades around as normal, as justified, as earned. Why else would the reviews be so full of certainty that these characters are now bad, bad women who have betrayed their fans? How dare Charlotte not be perfectly happy with the children she so desperately wanted? How dare Miranda quit her job because she’s unhappy and rarely sees her son? How dare Carrie want jewelry instead of a bedroom television as an anniversary gift? And how dare Samantha want to keep feeling desire? Such terrible trespasses! Surely they must be punished. And so they are punished.

The good news is that you can still go see the movie and think whatever you like about it. Or you can choose not to go, guided by your trusted critics or because you're just not interested. Either way it's fine with me. Just, please, don't say it's a bad movie unless you've seen it. When you judge, know what you judge.

11:43 p.m. - June 02, 2010

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