May 27, 2010

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Sex and the City 2 (R)
Carrie Bradshaw and the gang reunite to chew a little more on the dry piece of grape Bubblicious stuck under the desk in this appletini universe in Sex and the City 2, a tiresome and unnecessary revisiting of once-relevant characters set on a forced march through a substandard series of plots.

Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) is happily married to Big (Chris Noth) but worries that they’re getting a little too married — he likes to occasionally skip a night on the town and stay home to eat takeout and sit on the couch and even, horrors!, wants a TV in the bedroom. Charlotte (Kristin Davis) loves her family — husband, two daughters — but finds it all overwhelming and is afraid that the bra-eschewing nanny might tempt her husband. Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is of almost no interest to the movie and gets thrown a weak plot about not liking her current job. Samantha (Kim Cattrall) is 50-whatever but determined to look 30s-ish and is filling herself with vitamins and hormones to keep menopause at bay.

The movie starts as Anthony Marantino (Mario Cantone) and Stanford Blatch (Willie Garson), two characters who have never been particularly interested in each other, decide to get married. In discussing how their marriage will work — Anthony announces that he’s allowed to cheat — Carrie starts aimlessly bloviating on how her marriage is and isn’t working. After, like, an hour or something of that, Samantha gets invited to Abu Dhabi to meet with a potential client and the gals take the action there, where they are given a disturbing amount of luxury (for a show that has never been good at dealing with race I don’t know that taking the game to a whole new culture was the best choice) and where, as trailers have already spoiled for you, Carrie runs into Aidan (John Corbett), a character whose love of Carrie never really made sense.

Where to start… Was I more put off by the ridiculous subplots about a braless nanny and bedroom television watching? Or was it the weird culture clash of everything in Abu Dhabi that was the most disturbing? On the one hand, everything that takes place in New York seems almost insultingly trivial. On the other hand, in the Middle East (as they keep refering to Abu Dhabi, as if they forgot which specific coutnry their in) the ladies each get their own butler, one of whom walks beside Carrie at one point holding an umbrella so she won’t get too much sun. And the women make a series of utterly moronic burka/veil comments that don’t seem like social commentary so much as just stupid lack of an iota of knowledge about a culture beyond their own. And they sing “I Am Woman” in karaoke in an Abu Dhabi nightclub in a scene where we’re supposed to believe that the bellydancers feel some sort of empowerment from watching drunk Americans sing a bad song from the 1970s. And we are given a Samantha — a woman allegedly quite skilled at marketing and public relations — who is presented with a lucrative business opportunity but doesn’t bother to learn one thing about the culture or expectations of her potential client. And there’s the strange juxtaposition of women in an Abu Dhabi marketplace covered head-to-toe in black while Carrie’s dressed like an extra in some punk, community theater version of Gone with the Wind and Miranda looks like she stepped out of an E.M. Forster novel. And there’s everything that happens in the scenes with the camels.

Yeah, the New York stuff is bad, but the Abu Dhabi scenes win the “oh God, my eyes” award for the movie.

Sex and the City 2 has exactly one recognizably human scene: Charlotte and Miranda get drunk while discussing the difficulties of motherhood. It’s not a particularly smart scene or particularly original. But it has something of human emotion in it. It touches, even if only briefly, on the idea that in adult life the things that are the most important and rewarding are often the things that are the hardest, that we can love something and yet find it occasionally uncomfortable, unpleasant and even heartbreaking.

The story here, insofar as there is one, might be about marriage and how to navigate it. And yet the movie has nothing to say about it, nothing that is even as low-bar insightful as the “being a mom is hard” observations of Charlotte and Miranda. Instead we get formerly multi-dimensional characters reduced to stereotypes who make half-baked stabs at a coherent thought and even more wet-batter attempts at humor. I was never fully in the tank for this show; I went through stages of watching it as a guilty pleasure and stages of finding it unwatchable even for the ridiculous outfits. But I recognize that these four women were once something resembling people and now are barely even realized enough to be paper dolls.

For most of the movie, my face felt stuck in a horrified expression — some kind of mix of walking in on your grandma putting on tight pantyhose and seeing someone light a cigarette for their six-year-old. It’s embarrassment, horror and a sense that the world has gone all wrong. I may not love these characters but I want them to have better than this. More than that, though, I spent the two-plus hours wanting to be anywhere else. D

Rated R for some strong sexual content and language. Written and directed by Michael Patrick King (from characters by Candace Bushnell and Darren Star), Sex and the City 2 is two hours and 20 minutes long and opens on Thursday, May 27. It is distributed by Warner Bros..