“Twenty dollars for shoes?”: Sex and the City 2

Glory, glory Hallelujah.  For various reasons, I was prevented from actually seeing this movie when it was in the theaters.  But alas, I have finally seen it!

I heard from various sources that this movie was disappointing, not as good as the first, and more like an episode of the show than a movie.  To that I say “pshaw.”  I’ll give them that it wasn’t as good as the first movie, but considering SATC1 is one of my all time favorite movies, there are few movies that live up to it.  I will also concede that it’s more like an episode of SATC than a movie, but it was an amazing show, so I don’t think that is much of an insult.  As for the disappointment, I had none of that.

I will warn you, this will probably be the longest review I have done or ever will do.  I’m pulling out The Screenwriter’s Bible to fully analyze this one.  I also warn with the utmost of seriousness, there WILL be spoiler alerts.  For the SparkNotes version of this review, read the very last paragraph.  So, without further ado, let’s get this party started.

From the opening sequence, I was hooked on this movie.  It’s like I revert back to being a five-year-old in Disney World when it comes to this movie.  The colors and the sparkles and the music and the characters I love so much… it makes giddy just thinking about it.  The general rule is that the first ten minutes determine whether or not you will like the rest of it.  In the case of this movie, it is more like the first ten seconds.

The catalyst–the part of the movie that “upsets the balance” comes in the first twenty minutes, as a result of Standford and Anthony’s wedding… sort of (Screenwriter’s Bible, p92).  In reality, the catalyst is set up at their wedding:  Big and Carrie cuddle up together in their hotel bed watching an old black and white movie.  That then allows the real catalyst to happen a whopping 38 minutes into the film.  It is their anniversary, and Big gets Carrie a TV in their bedroom.  She gets pretty upset about her “gift,” considering she doesn’t really like watching TV, and she certainly doesn’t like it while she’s sleeping.

This is where I think a lot of people begin to get disappointed by this movie.  As audience members, we’re supposed to feel like we know what the main character’s confrontation/goal is going to be about in the first 15 minutes.  In the case of SATC2, it takes more than twice that long to get there.  And the stuff that happens before it?  Sort of totally unimportant and gratuitously fabulous.  (And slightly unbelievable, but that’s neither here nor there.)  While I love getting little updates on what Stanford and Anthony are doing, their wedding was not actually important.  Sure, it served as a little metaphor, but it prevented the movie from starting, so maybe it should have gone.

At one point Anthony tells everyone Stanford will allow him to sleep around after they are married, and I thought for sure it would turn out Stanford ends up cheating on Anthony.  Heck, I would have even been okay if Anthony had an opportunity to cheat but turned it down because he loved Stanford too much.  Unfortunately, none of this happens because the film NEVER comes back to them.  For shame, Michael Patrick King.  You missed a beautiful gardening opportunity.  You planted a little foreshadowing seed, but you didn’t care for it, so it didn’t bloom into a wonderful dramatic arc flower.

The only explanation I have as to why there is so much uselessness happening before the catalyst is established is because King felt it necessary to give us an update on their lives before getting the party started.  As a fan desperate for just about anything resembling a new plot about these four ladies, I am willing to accept the delay and move on.  However, I must concede he was terribly inefficient.  I mean, every other decent sequel in history does exactly that in about ten minutes (ie Toy Story 3.   Just you wait; that review might be just as epic as this one.)

Now, where were we?  Ah, yes.  All of the characters must be fully prepared and in the right state of mind for when the big event comes.  Carrie’s catalyst is her getting into a fight about getting into a rut with Big.  Miranda’s catalyst is that she quits her job.  Charlotte’s catalyst is that she is completely overwhelmed as a mother of two and has a mini-meltdown in her pantry, partly due to the fact that she thinks Harry is having/wants to have an affair with their super hot, bra-less, Irish nanny.  Samantha’s catalyst is that Smith Jerrod invites her to where he is filming a movie in Abu Dhabi.  And… action!

At 50 minutes in, we have the big event “that changes you central character’s life in a big way” :  everyone decides they’ll go to Abu Dhabi (Screenwriter’s Bible, p92). Right after they decide this, Big tells Carrie he thinks it might be a good idea if the two of them have a couple days a week apart from each other so they can do their own things without having to burden the other.  The whole scene is really great.  It’s such an uncomfortable idea for a husband to tell his wife, “Oh, maybe we should hang out less,” but the way he does it is just sort of heartbreaking.  I don’t often empathize with Carrie, and even less do I sympathize with her, but in this instance, I felt her pain.

(Side note:  I actually watched this movie with my mom, and during this scene, I was super into it and caught up in all the emotion.  At the end of it, in a moment of silent contemplation, my one-of-a-kind mother chimed in, exasperated, “Why does he have such a tiny cup?!”  The whole scene Big is drinking an espresso, and he has a little cup and saucer. That is what my mom was concerned about.)

On the plane ride to the Middle East, Carrie tells the girls about Big’s proposition, but tells them as if it were a mutually conceived idea that she fully supports.  In a moment that reminds me of how much I love Charlotte, she asks, “Doesn’t it hurt your feelings that he would want time off?”  The way Charlotte looks at her just makes me hurt for Carrie.

Once there, a lot of time is spent establishing how luxurious their accommodations are and how different the culture is.  Carrie becomes momentarily entranced with a young girl who must lift her veil for every fry she wants to eat.  I think that was supposed to be some sort of metaphor, too.  It mostly came across as super creepy.

Halfway through the film, we come to the pinch: “The point of no return for the central character” (Scriptwriter’s Bible, p93).  Our pinch is honestly a little weak–perhaps another reason some were less than thrilled with this movie.  It comes when Carrie is talking with her butler about his wife, who lives in India, whom he only gets to see once every three months.  He tells her, “I’m a lucky man… Time doesn’t matter.”  She then decides Big’s whole “let’s take days off from our marriage” idea can work.  Charlotte, having an entire conversation with Carrie with only a look, is unconvinced of Carrie’s confidence in her new unconventional take on marriage.

Actually, it’s possible that isn’t the pinch at all.  Arguments can be made for it, but the real pinch may be when Carrie and Miranda go shopping at the market–where Carrie is ecstatic to find $20 shoes (to which I say, they have Payless in Manhattan!  I know.  I’ve been there.  And now I’m showing just how truly Midwestern I am.)  When looking for her money, she sets some of her stuff down, only to be distracted by the fact that–of all people–Aiden is there.  They decided they really must have dinner sometime while both in the United Arab Emirates before parting ways.

All four ladies then reconvene to have the rest of the day together.  They ride camels out to… I don’t know, the middle of the desert somewhere.  A ridiculously attractive man, known to Samantha as “Lawrence of my labia” interrupts their dinner to give instructions to their butler.  Why this man would feel the need to tell this one employee of the hotel his needs, or how exactly Lawrence found him out there is beyond me, but I guess it’s the only way King could get Samantha and him to cross paths.  Either way, it happened.

After eating, they go to a karaoke bar and proceed to sing the most cringe-worthy version of “I Am Woman,” I have ever heard, complete with (no doubt) vocal lessons before hand for the actresses and throwing the microphones back and forth to the audience for call and response during the chorus.  Really, Michael Patrick King, for momentarily thinking you were writing a musical?  Really, all four cast members, none of whom said, “Shouldn’t we be sillier about doing karaoke, not actually trying to sing well?”  Really, everybody?  REALLY?

Later, Carrie tells the girls about seeing Aiden, and how she plans on seeing him again before they leave.  Charlotte suggests that may not be the best idea:  “I think you’re playing with fire.” Then Carrie is back to being the bitch I have always known she was, snapping at Charlotte, “Just because you’re worried about your marriage, everybody’s going to cheat,” before storming off.  And in the rare moment where I actually love Miranda, she swoops in to save Charlotte: “Take a nice long nap, and then I’ll buy you a drink.”  The scenes between the two of them are some of the best of the whole movie.  Miranda forces Charlotte to finally admit what is going on with her and how difficult being a mother is, while commiserating with her and assuring her it does not make her a terrible person.  Their conversation is more like the SATC quality I’m used to, going from sad to poignant to funny in one fell swoop.  After voicing her fear that Harry was having an affair with the nanny, Charlotte confesses, “My first thought was, ‘I can’t lose the nanny!'”

Finally, an hour and 45 minutes into the film, we have the crisis:  “the low point of the story” (Screenwriter’s Bible, p93).  This crisis was totally expected and in no way surprising, Carrie kisses Aiden.  It is sort of portrayed as a crime of passion–they’re just talking and walking and it happens out of habit, almost–but she glammed herself up Arabian style for this dinner with him.  It seemed like it might have been premeditated.  Even if it wasn’t, I think we all can agree Charlotte was right.  As Peter Cincotti says, “If you play with fire, your fingers might get burned.”  Carrie does end up calling Big to tell him what happened, and he is rightfully upset.

In other plot lines, Samantha gets a little too familiar with Lawrence of her labia while in public, and is subsequently arrested.  While I am not a big fan of the misogynistic practices that happen over there and would not support them, you have to be considerate of the fact that cultures are different.  And honestly, nobody in America wants to see people feeling each other up, so that is most definitely going to fly in the UAE.  She gets thrown in jail, and I find it fairly satisfying.  However, because of this, she then gets all four of them thrown out of the hotel, so they have one hour to scramble around and collect their things before heading to the airport.  And that, my friends, is called the showdown or climax.

My issue here, though, is that the showdown is between the four ladies and, essentially, Abu Dhabi/a different culture.  Since the ladies are obviously our protagonists, that makes the Middle East our antagonist.  Not to get on a soap box or anything, but why does a perfectly acceptable, not inherently bad culture that is already misunderstood and misconstrued in America have to the villain in this, of all movies?  King did a fairly okay job trying to reconcile that with what happens a little later, but not before completely making an ass out of the girls in their cultural insensitivity.

Before heading to the airport, Carrie realizes she left her passport at the market with the man who sells $20 shoes.  So, off to the market they go.  In what is supposed to be a hilariously mortifying mix-up, a man selling knock-off purses thinks Samantha’s real Burkin bag is one of his, and he rips it trying to take it from her.  Her assortment of condoms, lube, dildos, and gag balls then go flying all over the busy market.  (Okay, so I’m pretty sure it was just condoms, but you get the idea.)  Everyone begins shunning her as she collects her paraphernalia, yells about how much she loves sex, and flips them all off.  Her friends pull her away from the scene and assure her that whatever just happened was most likely illegal.

Now, this is where I got totally lost.  As they’re rushing from the market a woman in a burka gets their attention and with the nod of her head tells them to follow her.  Let’s recap.  Samantha was just released from jail, she just caused another hullabaloo that should probably land her in jail, Charlotte just came dangerously close to buying a black market watch, Carrie has no passport, and they’re all trying to get to the airport ASAP to catch a plane, yet when a stranger nods her head, and Carrie says, “I think we should follow her,” they ALL decide it’s a good idea?  REALLY, MICHAEL PATRICK KING?!

Anyway, they do decide to follow this “woman” (and I put woman in quotation marks, because in a burka, you don’t actually know), and it turns out she is the leader of a progressive woman’s book club.  She leads them to their meeting, and they all take off their burkas, showing their haute couture fashions that hide underneath.  Somehow the film then turns into an episode of The 4 Stooges when the girls come out in burkas in order to get Carrie’s passport and leave the market without getting caught.

Once they get home, Carrie finds Big isn’t there.  He eventually comes home and tells her how pissed he is.  Then, in all his Big glory, he gives her his “punishment”:  a black diamond ring she must wear to remind her that she is a married woman, after all.  And that, is her moment of realization, where the “central character has grown, changed, or figured something out” (Screenwriter’s Bible, p 93).  Actually, the realization started when she called him, but it ended when she accepted the ring and decided they can give the “day off” thing a try, but with her own conditions.

Having said all of that, you must be thinking, “Deanna, you just found flaw, after flaw, after flaw in that movie.  How could you possibly like it?”  I’ll tell you how.  I love the characters.  I love the fashion.  I love the locations.  I love the glamor.  I love the entertainment.  I love the escapism.  I love seeing what else happens in these fictional people’s fictional lives, and I don’t have a lot of characters I can say that about.  Was it King’s best?  No.  Was it as good as it could have been?  No.  Will I take it?  Hell yes.

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