I saw Sex and the City 2 yesterday. I didn't anticipate it would be a very good movie (indeed, it reminded me at times of Mannequin), but I also didn't anticipate it would be a scifi film. What?
First off, I'm going to assume that the average io9 reader doesn't give a fig about Sex and the City-verse, but I'll say spoilers anyway. For the uninitiated, here's the entire franchise in five bullet points:
1.) The lead of SATC2 is book writer and former sex columnist Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica-Parker). Carrie is the main character but also the least likable one. Her defining character trait is vacillation. Carrie ≠ SJP's witch in the seminal Neopagan documentary Hocus Pocus.
2.) Carrie has three friends. The first is lawyer Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon). Miranda is the most relatable character but receives only 40 seconds of story arc. Her defining character trait is angst.
3.) Carrie is also friends with homemaker Charlotte York-Goldenblatt (Kristin Davis). Charlotte is the least despicable character but also the most annoying one. Her defining character trait is privileged disapproval.
4.) Carrie's final friend is PR impresario/erotic conquistadora Samantha Jones (Kim Catrall). Samantha is the most entertaining character but also the least realistic one. Her defining character trait is "anything-that-moves." Samantha is the same exact character as Gracie Law from Big Trouble in Little China.
5.) The four of them live in New York City and have sex (not with each other). They eat brunch.
Now that I've distilled the entire series, some of you may be wondering if I saw this movie out of my own volition. Yes, yes, I did. I know heterosexual white men (ages 25-40) will be responsible for a fraction of this weekend's box office haul, but I did my part. For me, the series' appeal lies somewhere between pre-dotcom-bust cultural curio ("They use landlines!") and not-so-guilty pleasure. I'm writing about my enjoyment of the show on the internet, after all. Some of you write Wolverine/Sabretooth slash fiction. Don't judge me.
Anyway, I didn't plan to critique Sex and the City 2 for io9. Indeed, it was just an ancillary interest, as scifi as numismatics and the Cleveland Browns. But after watching this lumbering, 146-minute imbecile colossus of a movie, I realized that the filmmakers have done the greatest genre bait-and-switch since From Dusk Til Dawn. The Sex and the City franchise, which began as a big-city relationship dramedy — and later (I'd say approximately around mid-Season 6) became the grotesque, hyper-materialist caricature of a big-city relationship dramedy — somehow metamorphosed into a science fiction with this sequel. A science fiction flick replete with fictional cartographies, temporal recursion, and a wanton, metro-biological god-being that exists both within and without of time and space. Oh, and magic shoes.
But I'm jumping the gun here. What exactly is Sex and the City 2 about? The four women go to Abu Dhabi for Samantha to work on a hotel deal that is never clearly delineated. The film then becomes a 90-minute tourism video for chi-chi Abu Dhabi (a.k.a "the NEW Middle East", a catchphrase that's said a million times), a celebration of "old" Middle Eastern motifs found in Daffy Duck serials (see: camels, man-servants), and populist lifestyle porn in the midst of a lousy economy — watching the women slug cosmos in their $22,000-a-night hotel is like a vacation for us lumpenproletariat in the audience! It is Sak's 5th Atavism. Somewhere, Edward Said's corpse spontaneously combusted.
The movie doesn't care about its plot (and neither should you), but it does hope to distract you with its $10 million wardrobe, all of which was apparently raided from Sun Ra's closet. But in this absolute vacuum of plot, a shadow narrative fills the void — the story of four damned immortals, condemned to live in a couture-drunk fugue state by an extradimensional puppet master (who may or may not be New York City itself). It's not much different from Dark City. Here's what cued me off.
1.) The outfits. Sartorially, the film is the most scifi thing I've seen all year. The wardrobe department obviously used Jean Paul Gaultier's designs from The Fifth Element as a jumping-off point. Tromping through the dunes, the women look like David Lynch's Fremen. At one point, Samantha dons what appears to be Isaac Hayes' Duke of New York costume (complete with A-number-1 shoulder pads). Everyone wears sarongs straight out of Zardoz. In short, they dress like total maniacs.
2.) Chronal stasis. Every other line, the characters incessantly yammer about the amount of time that has passed since the first Sex and the City film. Cynics may dismiss this fuzzy nostalgia as a lazy placeholder for a storyline, but c'mon. Unless you're Andy Rooney, nobody spends their entire day reminiscing. This leads me to believe that the characters are legitimately confused as to what year it is.
To further muddle things, the characters have more or less ossified into caricatures of their former selves. Again, naysayers will chalk this up to lazy writing, but I think this was intentional and insidious. Their personalities are locked on a Möbius loop. Even the children of the movie can't grow up - they are eternally monosyllabic moppets on par with the Moleman's moloids.
3.) Phantom geography. Despite being called Sex and the City 2, the film takes place in Abu Dhabi. The thing is, SATC2 was filmed in Morocco (Abu Dhabi rejected their request to film on location), and the film is one enormous paean to Abu Dhabi. Why on Earth would you pen a $95 million celebration to a place that doesn't exist?
The answer? Yes, this too was intentional. By designating the rest of the world as an amorphous fantasyland*, the filmmakers also juxtapose New York as the only "concrete" destination in SATC2. By removing the characters from The City for the entire movie, they see that everything outside of New York is simply a fevered opium hallucination. Once you cross the Hudson River, you transcend reality, much like H.P. Lovecraft's Dreamlands.
*The movie also takes place at Stanford and Anthony's wedding in Connecticut for 20 minutes, but this scene contains strong elements of surrealism, as Liza Minnelli performs Beyoncé's "Single Ladies" and the wedding set is not unlike David Lo-Pan's wedding chapel from Big Trouble In Little China. Holy fuck, do I love that movie. Here's another clip, just for laughs.
4.) The totemic power of shoes. The thing that made it absolutely clear that Sex and the City 2 was a science fiction movie was the scene in which Carrie bought shoes at the souk. In the Sex and the City mythos, plots involving Carrie's shoe are rife with danger and intrigue. Remember the episode in which Carrie's Manolos were stolen at that party? Or when she was mugged for her Manolos in Tribeca? Shoes are the medium with which The City keeps tabs on Carrie - they are The City's harbinger, The City's familiar, and Carrie's tormentor.
Case in point — in Sex and the City 2, Carrie goes to the souk to purchase what appears to be genie shoes (I'm serious). At this point, Carrie's old flame, Aiden Shaw, suddenly appears. Do you know how difficult it is to run into people you know in NYC, let alone in the UAE? Aiden's appearance wasn't just a lazy, ludicrously improbable sop to longtime SATC fans. No, it was The City's machinations keeping Carrie in check. The shoes conspired against her. Ooooh.
When viewed as a rom-com, Sex and the City 2 is terrible and crappy and a horrific inversion of everything the show once was. But when viewed as a science fiction film, SATC2 is subversive, stylish and chilling. Like The Island from Lost, we may never know The City's true identity — Is it a VR computer program? A malevolent interdimensional god? Satan? — but we do know the following:
1.) The City can control time.
2.) The City can control their personalities.
3.) Nothing exists outside of The City.
4.) The City keeps tabs on Carrie via shoes.
In sum, The City is Carrie Bradshaw's deathless necropolis. I liked Mannequin better.