With a 16% Rottentomatoes.com rating and a final box office take of $95 million against a $100 million budget, it’s fair to call Sex and the City 2 a critical and commercial failure. At the time of its release, however, you would have thought the film’s creators had perpetrated some violent crime against humanity. Critics spewed vitriol and, worse, avowed fans blasted the movie. The most common complaint was that the film strayed too far from the series’ original premise – four single ladies looking for love in New York – with its far flung, Middle Eastern setting. Now that the dust, or Abu Dhabian sand, has settled, I proffer my own take on how, with this sequel, Sex finally lost its appeal. My review after the jump:
As both critic and avowed fan of the series, my suspicion that something was off with Sex 2 set in when I saw the first trailer. Featuring a sampling of Jay Z’s already tired “Empire State of Mind” and Sarah Jessica Parker’s narration trying desperately to convince me “so much can happen in two years” juxtaposed with images to the contrary (wow, Charlotte now bakes cupcakes!), the trailer hinted at the film’s basic lack of real creative impetus for being. No doubt the first film’s staggering $415 million dollar worldwide gross created a financial, if not creative, imperative for the Sex gang to reunite. The problem is that the comic and romantic saga of Carrie Bradshaw pretty much ended with the series’ two-hour finale back in 2006, when Carrie finally settled with Mr. Big.
The first Sex and the City movie flirted with the idea that maybe Carrie didn’t quite get her happy ending, but mostly just served as an amusing, if unnecessary, coda for fans to see her tie the “Big” knot. With Sex 2, writer/director Michael Patrick King faces the daunting task of creating an engaging post-“happily ever after” narrative, something that rarely works outside of a strongly constructed story of remarriage, which this is not.
When the film opens, we are reunited with Carrie and Big two years into married life. The newlyweds squabble joylessly over such issues as feet on the couch, take-out versus dining out and a television in the bedroom. It’s the stuff of bad half-hour situational comedy, something Sex and the City the series never could have been accused of being. King just fails to make this tired material seem fresh or interesting. What’s worse, it reveals how far Carrie Bradshaw has devolved from plucky protagonist to insufferable princess.
When Sex and the City premiered back in 1998, Carrie Bradshaw was a relatable, aspirational character looking for love and career success in Manhattan. As a sex columnist writing for the fictional New York Star, she struggled to make sense of the rituals of dating life for the sake of, not only herself and her column readers, but for us, the viewers, whom she directly addressed in the show’s first two seasons. Eventually, the show’s creators eliminated the breaking of the fourth wall and the series shifted from sociology to soap. Still, viewers stuck with their big-hearted, occasionally misguided heroine, because her struggles never seemed too unrecognizable.
In Sex and the City 2, however, Carrie’s a successful author married to the man of her dreams. This gilded life might be tolerable if Carrie showed any signs of gratitude for it. Instead, she’s bitches out “Big” for buying her a flat screen television instead of jewelry for their anniversary. Excuse me, Miss Bradshaw, but the rest of humanity has problems of its own.
The movie barely clears its painful, protracted first act, when Carrie and Big decide that maybe what they need is to take a couple days a week off from each other. But instead of constructing a script around Carrie and Big working it out in “the city,” King drops the whole storyline and sends Carrie on an exotic trip to Abu Dhabi with her girlfriends, perhaps to illustrate that, while she might have it bad in New York (not really), it’s always worse in a repressive, cartoonishly rendered Middle East.
If some of the girls’ adventures in Abu Dhabi are slightly amusing, it’s mostly because the focus shifts from uptight Carrie to Sex’s other leading ladies. Cynthia Nixon is luminous and playful as the uptight “Miranda” in vacation mode; Kristin Davis as “Charlotte” has a moving scene in which she chugs cocktails and admits to the challenges of mothering; Kim Cattrall returns to her most famous post-Mannequin role as “Samantha,” a character who almost grew by the series’ end, but is now back to her one note, sexually carnivorous self.
It’s really Samantha’s character that sets the tone for the whole Abu Dhabi trip: over-the-top, decadent and comically vulgar. But the whole thing just feels tired. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, Sex and the City is Carrie Bradshaw’s story and – If this film is any proof – it’s no longer a particularly interesting or relatable one.
In its favor, Sex and the City 2 certainly looks and sounds good. The 1080p High Def picture certainly shows off the film’s colorful costumes and exotic Abu Dhabi setting. Audio options include English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1, French 5.1 Dolby Digital and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. Subtitle options include English SDH, French and Spanish.
Bonus material includes the featurettes “A Conversation with Sarah Jessica Parker and Michael Patrick King,” in which neither director nor actress break face discussing the film’s merits; “The Men of Sex and the City”, featuring clips from the superior TV show; “Styling Sex and the City 2,”; “Marry Me, Liza!,” “Revisiting the ‘80s”; “Sex and the City 2 Soundtrack: In the Recording Studio with Alicia Keys” and commentary from director Michael Patrick King.
The Blu-ray includes a bonus digital copy of the movie.
The once sharply written story of a single woman and her friends navigating the dating world of pre-recession Manhattan was unnecessarily, if amusingly extended in the first film. This narratively slight, yet oddly bloated sequel proves there’s no real story left to tell.
Sex and the City 2 is rated R for some strong sexual content and language. It has a run time of 146 minutes.