THE POPCORN REEL FILM REVIEW/"Sex And The
City: The Movie"
Whether It's Labels Or Love, Charlatans And Cinderellas Alike Seek Them In This Sexy Big Apple Fairy Tale
By Omar P.L. Moore/May 29, 2008
"My name is Carrie Bradshaw." Fans of the immensely successful television series need not know more, because with these four words they are instantly sold. And though it takes a little more time for the film version of the HBO series "Sex And The City" to make its case to non-fans -- just after the one-hour mark to be precise -- the glitzy glamour campaign is a success, as Michael Patrick King's "Sex And The City: The Movie", which has special midnight screenings tonight in New York and Los Angeles before opening wide across North America tomorrow, takes off as a witty comedy but improves and succeeds more impressively as sincere adult drama. There is little however, to justify its two hour and 25 minute length if only to show the many fashions, shoes, dresses and other costume changes courtesy of famed designer Patricia Field. Still, "Sex" is joyous adventure and entertainment, with a reunion of Gotham's Gal Power Quartet as they share their hopes, fears, dreams, heartbreaks and glories as forty-somethings.
The film gets off to a flying start and much of what one needs to know to catch up over the four intervening years since the end of the seventh season on HBO are contained in a breezy, energetic opening credit sequence that is smartly edited by Michael Berenbaum. The earmarks of the television series' structure are imprinted on the big screen and its lead star Sarah Jessica Parker is in her element as Carrie Bradshaw, the 40-year-old single lady next door, who writes books (like Menhattan and The Single Life) and constantly suffers the slings and arrows of Carrie-jilting lovers. Carrie just wants true love, as we all do. Is that a crime? Ms. Parker is one of those talents who is born to play the lovelorn Carrie, who shines as much in her chameleon moments in a montage of gowns and dresses, sparkling in Vivienne Westwood, among other designers. (Ms. Parker, a mother in real life, also sports the dress she famously donned in the opening sequence of the popular hit television series.) In other films like April's "Smart People" or 2006's "Failure To Launch" Ms. Parker appears to lack a certain je ne sais quoi -- but she is so much a fixture in the "Sex" television series and film as Carrie that not a soul would accept even the world's best actress Cate Blanchett in the Carrie role.
For those not accustomed to the fabulous and fashionable foursome, Carrie is the lead lady of this band of nouveau Butterflies (not Beatles), with a perky and exacting Charlotte (a hilarious turn by Kristin Davis), the cynical and truculent Miranda, a Brooklyn career attorney (New York stage actress Cynthia Nixon), and the vamp-like Samantha (a vibrant Kim Cattrall, a native Liverpudlian), who at 50 hasn't lost her appetite for all things manly. Somehow Samantha has maintained a five-year relationship with Smith Jerrod (Jason Lewis) a semi-vainglorious buff-meister and workaholic, and has been living with him in Los Angeles in a Malibu beachfront house, 3000 miles away from her closest friends. But Samantha can't resist trips back to the Big Apple, for it (and her drama-plagued friends) keep calling her name.
For Carrie, who clearly spent the bulk of her time in the weight room over the last four years, the heart of the matter is still Mr. Big (a more nuanced Chris Noth), the businessman extraordinaire who has money to burn and lots of closet space to give. Through it all, they still have eyes on each other. In this regard and almost all others, "Sex And The City: The Movie" is hardly a radical departure from its small screen sister. It is written and directed by Michael Patrick King, who directed and wrote many of the HBO television episodes, and produced by Mr. King, Mr. Starr, John Melfi and Ms. Parker. Candace Bushnell's original characters remain intact, with the addition of a new face: Louise ("Dreamgirls" Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson), a fresh-faced idealistic assistant from St. Louis whom Carrie hires to keep her life in order. Ms. Hudson's appearance offers a welcome infusion of additional energy to a film that threatens to sag a little -- although her character is glimpsed only briefly and in the second half of the film. For the relatively few minutes she has on screen Ms. Hudson is lively, elegant, endearing and charismatic in her second big screen role, but Mr. King's film seems to view her more as a splash of inspiration than a person to get to know. Though Ms. Hudson and Ms. Parker have a natural chemistry on screen, when a film is almost two and a half hours long, one would think that it would have an opportunity to flesh out a key character in more detail.
Because of the film's length though, giving one more time to ponder situations, viewers will feel some events in this new "Sex" pang at their hearts more deeply. The audience's solar plexus is stirred vigorously in several moments. And all those Internet rumors of a certain character's demise are -- and here's no spoiler -- untrue. Lest one forget, other characters that dotted the "Sex" television landscape are back for this entertaining big screen Cinderella fairy tale in the Big Apple; Candace Bergen shines in a cameo as subtly condescending Vogue magazine editor Enid Frick, and Charlotte's candid and exacting wedding planner Anthony Marentino is back. As played by Mario Cantone, the character of Anthony has a lot of choice words offering some well-timed laughs, and Mr. Cantone seems to be enjoying himself, as does Willie Garson, who plays Anthony's boyfriend Stanford Blatch. A confidante and good friend of Carrie in the television series, Mr. Garson's Stanford is relegated considerably here on the big screen to observer and resident cheerleader, with his flamboyance oddly toned down. Stanford has na'ary a word with Carrie for the most part, during the entire film. Evan Handler is back as Charlotte's loving husband Harry. Miranda's boyfriend Steve, played well here by David Eisenberg, is probably the most authentic man in the film. Mr. Eisenberg perfectly captures a real man, someone prone to error yet also willing to look deep within himself and be vulnerable. Miranda and Steve's relationship is the least caricatured of all the film's relationships and the emotion that springs forth from their predicaments is genuine both on screen and in the audience.
Dry eyes are optional in some parts of the film, which pulses against the Big Apple's aura, yet ironically New York City is less a character here than the trailer for the film suggests. One other note: real-life Vogue editor-at-large Andre Leon Talley gets his cameo in the sun in a non-speaking sunglasses-wearing moment during the Carrie montage, onscreen for even less time than George C. Wolfe was in "The Devil Wears Prada", a film which might be an odd but completely compatible and relatable cousin (or prequel) to this new film, which has an inescapably predictable air to it.
"Sex"'s second half once again though, is the jewel of the entire event experience as the four ladies mature and life north of 40 becomes more real to them. The acting here is also better, with the film's situations becoming less cartoonish and more serious. Mr. King's screenplay is sharper -- even though much of the juice has been squeezed out of some of the characters' situations -- with some great lines for Ms. Nixon and Ms. Davis in particular. Ms. Davis just about steals the show overall, but for sheer exertion and audience engagement Ms. Cattrall wins out as the voracious Samantha who wins the best one-liners title. The film's soundtrack isn't half bad either, though not every song on the CD turns up in the film (India.Arie's terrific and introspective "The Heart of The Matter" is a virtual no-show, although it is prominent in the film's trailer), while more pulsating dance beats and melodies like the triumphant "All Dressed In Love", by Jennifer Hudson appears near the end of the film and Fergie's Madonna-sound-alike vocals punctuate a pugnacious "Labels For Love", which shows up during the end credits and not earlier, where it should be.
But at the end of the day, "Sex And The City: The Movie" reaches its core audience: the ladies, who will be looking at and enjoying with relish the intimacies and open talk between the celluloid members of their sex. And though a fair amount of men -- both fans (this writer confesses to being among them) and the curious -- will turn up to watch Samantha and see a few of the steamier sex scenes in the film, it is the women of the audience who have the last look, and laugh.
"Sex And The City: The Movie" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language. The film's duration is two hours and 25 minutes. Prepare to be Carried away. The film has midnight screening tonight in New York City and Los Angeles and will open across the rest of the U.S. and in Canada tomorrow.
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