Friday, May 28, 2010

When Bigger might actually be better

Although I watched the last few seasons of Sex and the City, and only started to get fed up with it near the end, I didn't see the movie until a couple weeks ago, almost two years after its release.

I might have seen it sooner had I not been daunted by the 145-minute running time. But I was also daunted by expecting it to suck.

And suck it did -- at least I thought so. Or maybe more accurately, it was protracted and boring, and I found the characters unsympathetic. It's funny, because the rules are different for a movie and a TV show. On a TV show, the characters' tunnel-vision materialism can seem charming. But in a movie, they have the burden of being Protagonists with a capital P, so their motivations need to be deeper, their actions more magnanimous, than the ongoing pursuit of the perfect pair of Gucci high heels. (For the purposes of this argument, I am going to assume Gucci makes shoes, though I really have no idea).

Sex and the City
, the movie, actually went for magnanimity in a way that I found laughable, insulting and almost racist. Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) hires a black assistant, Louise, played by Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson. When we meet Louise, she has a designer handbag that she's renting because she can't afford it. So even though she's sophisticated enough to assist fashion maven Carrie Bradshaw, she's ghetto enough to put her bag on the equivalent of layaway? Carrie's decision to hire Louise is supposed to make her look super enlightened, like she either doesn't see race or believes firmly in affirmative action. But the power dynamics in their relationship are pretty gross -- and when Louise returns home to St. Louis to pursue love, Carrie gifts her a real Dolce & Gabbana handbag, which creates this unfortunate "Oh thank you massa!" moment between them.

But I didn't mean to write about race today. No, the real problem with the Sex and the City movie is that it played like an entire season crammed into one 2 hour and 20 minute movie. Each character followed the kind of plot arc that they would normally follow during a typical season of the show, and given that agenda, you could say it was a miracle they fit it into 145 minutes. But that also left the movie feeling very small and workaday, with only one plot point (Carrie and Mr. Big potentially getting married) to raise it above the level of mere TV show.

And this is where Sex and the City 2, which comes out today, may actually have the chance to be better than the original, by being bigger.

A couple weeks ago I shared my concern about the potential for bombastic excess in Iron Man 2, cautioning against the bigger-is-better approach to sequels. But I guess it depends what kind of bigger you're going for. By making this movie bigger than TV, the Sex and the City girls could have me interested again.

In this case, "bigger" means "taking a trip to Morocco."

What may seem like a gimmick is actually a stroke of genius -- take the sex out of the city. That's what a movie version of a TV show should be all about -- expanding the universe of the show and giving us things we haven't seen before. Creating new stimuli to bring out the essential prissiness in Charlotte, the essential sarcasm in Miranda, the essential romanticism in Carrie, and the essential horniness in Samantha.

I haven't read a plot synopsis for Sex and the City 2 -- maybe because I worried it would damage the thesis of this post -- but if the entire movie, give or take a few establishing scenes, takes place in Morocco, I can think of nothing better for the potential fortunes of this potential franchise. Of course, it gives me pause that Sarah Jessica Parker famously sniped that they should never have made a second movie, and I doubt there will be a third. But if they do in fact stick to the Morocco setting, at least the second movie will be a respectable way to go out.

The ideal way I envision it is that it's a week-long trip to Morocco (this much I've gathered from the ads), and that each character's plot arc is something that can be resolved in Morocco itself, even if it may involve phone calls to loved ones back in New York. Make the whole movie one giant travelogue, set in the always-epic cinematic location of the desert, and give each character something Moroccan to keep them occupied for two hours (at least they've shaved 25 minutes off the running time). It will feel both big and appropriately cinematic, which are probably one in the same thing, and it will feel nothing like a TV season on fast forward.

My worry, of course, is that they will spend about as much time in Morocco as they spent in Mexico for Carrie's abortive honeymoon in the first film -- about 15 minutes of screen time. And that will mean they've learned nothing from the criticisms directed at the original.

There's a second way that I hope Sex and the City 2 will be Bigger. You probably noticed that I capitalized the B in Bigger in my title for this post, and, knowing that I'm not someone prone to random capitalizations, you probably assumed I meant something by it. Indeed I did.

Simply put, I hope to see more of Mr. Big (Chris Noth) in this movie. Although he plays a crucial role in the first film's plot, he also disappears for huge stretches of time. And what can I say -- I just find this man extremely debonair. He's clearly a supporting character in the Sex and the City universe, but a viewer -- especially a guy like me -- needs a little diversion from all the talk of shoes and adoptions and pregnancies and orgasms.

However, I've heard some scuttlebutt that Aidan (John Corbett) is the only male character who makes it to Morocco, which means either one or the other of my hopes for the movie will be dashed: Either not very long in Morocco, or not very much Mr. Big, especially since Aidan is Mr. Big's rival for Carrie's affections.

Oh well. What can I expect from a brand name that long ago crossed over from charming me to irritating me?


Mike Lippert said...

My problem with the first movie, besides the fact that I hated all the characters was that it felt too much like a collection of all the requiste Sex and the City moments strung together instead of creating a narrative arch like oh look, here's the gay sexual banter, and oh here's the fashion show and so on.

Vancetastic said...


I agree with that as well. Hating all the characters is really telling -- with four different female archetypes, you're supposed to like at least one of them. (I have always found Miranda, the down-to-earth one who is actually the most attractive to me because she isn't really trying, even though the actress is a lesbian in real life, to be my favorite.)

I suppose the goal in any film version of a popular [whatever it may be] needs to recreate the elements that made you like the [thing in question], but if you are ONLY doing that, then you've got a problem.

Simon said...

Hate this entire franchise. So much.

Vancetastic said...

Simon, that reaction is 100% valid. It's funny, at the time it was on, I was swept up in a bit of a "anything on HBO is good" phase. But whenever my wife and I see it start to come on in syndication, after we've finished up a good episode of Seinfeld or The Office, we dive for the remote.

Chris, a librarian said...

I can't imagine a movie I'd rather see less than Sex and the City 2.

Vancetastic said...

I will see it eventually, but only for the purposes of science.