Saturday, 13 November 2010

For a feel-good experience that is replete with fast one-liners and almost bereft of plot, Sex and the City 2 (dir Michael Patrick King, 2010) is a stand-out performer to safely bring into your lounge room and enjoy unencumbered by difficult story-lines and hard-to-read aesthetics. I never saw the first movie in the series, but from the way this one proceeds I assume it had something to do with how Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) got married to handsome, debonaire John James Preston (Chris Noth). So it's now two years down the track and the glamour has started to wear off with the close of the nuptials and the end of the honeymoon. John has turned into a kind of big dog who drops onto the couch at every opportunity, where he automaticlly switches on the TV. He even gets a TV installed in a desk in the bedroom so that viewing is never far away from the pair's intimacy. Carrie wonders if the "sparkle" he promised at the outset has been extinguished.

Charlotte (Kristin Davis) has two children in her care and is stressing out in a major way. Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) gets the chop at work because one of the senior partners is targeting her. So when Samantha (Kim Cattrall) is invited to visit Abu Dhabi for a couple of weeks' restorative holidaying, the four friends pack and head for the airport.

That's about all the plot we need to understand the movie. One more thing will happen to draw all the separate parts together, however, and of course it relates directly to Carrie's marriage problem. While in the bazaar Carrie meets an old flame and they make a dinner date, after which they kiss. Carrie flees, mortified with her cavalier attitude to her marriage (pic) and makes a point of phoning John in New York to confess.

And naturally Samantha gets in trouble with the local authorities when on a beach she kisses a Danish architect she met while riding camels in the desert. As you do.

But apart from these structural elements the viewer is largely free of any constraint and can focus attention on the zippy repartee that accompanies the four women as they negotiate sexual politics in two time zones.

A highlight for me was seeing the four do a karaoke number in an Abu Dhabi nightclub, where they sing the classic Helen Reddy feminist anthem I Am Woman and elements of the audience join in with them to celebrate some sort of coming-of-age. It's a largely symbolic gesture though due to the film's distinct lack of plot, and it depends on received ideas for much of its authenticity, which is a lazy way to score points. The film is full of such unambiguous nods at big ideas, such as the opening scenes which take in a glitzy marriage between two men and which features a breathless-looking Lisa Minelli in signature black jacket-and-tights.

A more topical acknowledgement of sexual politics occurs near the end of the movie when the girls, caught exposed in the bazaar, are succoured by a group of Arab women wearing full burqa. Their saviours take them aside into a niche behind a shop and reveal the Western high fashion they keep hidden underneath their normal clothing. It's a nice moment, too, when these women hold up copies of a book they're reading for their book club, and it turns out to be a book Samantha had recommended to her friends when they were still in the US. But, again, such scenes are mostly driven but stuff happening outside the movie, in the wider public sphere.

The Middle East setting also allows the girls to examine whether there is true equality between the sexes in the US. There is grumbling assent that not everything is as good as it could be, especially by lawyer Miranda.

For me the best moment at the end came when John admitted to Carrie, once she has returned to their stylish apartment, that he had been "killing time" walking around the city. It's an authentic moment in an otherwise fairly insubstantial line of the story, and it gives his masculinity a filip since he risks turning into a cypher dependent for essential agency on Carrie's moods and preferences. A walk around New York to clear your head? I can relate to that.

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