Kristin Davis, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall and Cynthia Nixon make the best of a bad situation in Abu Dhabi. (HBO Films)
A good movie, like a good book, should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but apparently not in that order if you're Sex and the City 2, where the screenwriters have decided to throw the pieces into the air and see where they land.
This is not the only mistake the powers that be made in the creation of this movie, but it's a big one, because the happy ending, such as it is, is at the beginning. All the excitement and over the topness, swans and Liza Minnelli and happy ever after, is front-loaded in this film, straight out of Busby Berkeley. The film then drifts into adventure and settles in complication, not a happy way to appease the masses.
Face it, Sex and the City is a franchise that for many is simply an escape--the ability to live the life one doesn't ordinarily lead, unless one happens to be footloose, female and fairly fancy free in Manhattan. Okay, over the years the 'girls' have matured somewhat, some have marriages now (three of the four, to be accurate), and two of them have children. Most importantly, Carrie is married, to 'Big,' and this second of the big screen adventures starts two years after the last one left off, with Carrie and Big, or Mr. and Mrs. John Preston, finding themselves in the terrible twos.
Still, the primary target market for this film wants an escape for the price of admission. Abu Dhabi would seem to be it, which Samantha delivers when a Middle Eastern sheik offers to fly her over to discuss potential public relations work for his hotel and agrees to include her three best friends. The journey comes complete with more-than-first class flights over (my train compartment on the Orient Express was smaller than their individual suites on the plane), a $22,000 a night suite in an Abu Dhabi hotel, all expenses paid, private butlers, private limousines, and complimentary wardrobes. What could go wrong?
In a word, Samantha. Frankly, the oldest of the four women is moving further and further into caricature, and I'm not sure it's for the best. The most range anyone got to see from Samantha's character over the years was during her cancer diagnosis and treatment. I'm all for her being a sexy, alive fifty-something (without her having to be BFF's with Miley Cyrus), but the promiscuity jokes have a limited shelf life.
Almost worse, Carrie Bradshaw has plunged into near matronly melancholy of the overly spray tanned variety, pouting because her husband wants to stay in more (which means take-out instead of eating out) and gives her a big-screen television in the bedroom for an anniversary present. Okay, I'll give her the bad anniversary gift; it was off the mark. But Big is apparently feeling the squeeze of the economy and is trimming expenses, something not explicitly discussed in the film, and Carrie is acting like a spoiled child. The two days she takes back at her old apartment to write early in the film seem the sanest thing she does, yet his suggestion that perhaps they occasionally need some time apart is not well received by her. Cue Abu Dhabi.
Abu Dhabi would seem to have everything the doctor ordered until a kiss ruins it for everyone--more than one kiss, actually. Samantha gets arrested by hotel security for inappropriate behavior on a public beach, and the women are summarily tossed from the hotel unless they can start paying the extravagant rent for the Jewel Suite out of their own pockets.
Another kiss spells bigger trouble for Carrie when she runs into her old flame Aidan in the spice market, which leads to dinner the next night and a goodnight kiss, nothing more. For the complication this throws into the film, it might as well be a lot more. It seems like perfect silliness to waste a John Corbett cameo on Carrie's insecurities. Because of that kiss, we get the complicated middle of the movie at the end, having already had the production number finale at the beginning.
I long for a Sex and the City where the women actually grow up, where Charlotte isn't baking muffins in vintage Valentino, where Samantha isn't offending half the planet with her stale antics, where Miranda isn't overscheduling everyone else's life, and particularly, where Carrie can be comfortable in her own skin and appreciate that sometimes, life requires more than just a little sacrifice. And less spray tan.
Personally, I have a suggestion for the next installment in the SATC film franchise. Have each of the female leads rotate a quarter turn into someone else's role--Sarah Jessica Parker play Samantha, Kim Cattrall play Miranda, Cynthia Nixon play Charlotte and Kristin Davis play Carrie Bradshaw. Then rotate another quarter turn for the inevitable fourth installment.
That would suit me fine.
(If you go, go for the Abu Dhabi escape, but warning, don't get too attached to the scenery or assume that Abu Dhabi interests underwrote part of the production in exchange for promotional consideration; the location shots were actually Morocco. And leave before Samantha moves her date to the beach; that way, you can still assume a happy ending.)
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