Critics in need of a life
WANT a sure- fire way to find a fun flick, one that won’t make you feel guilty for consuming more than your share of the world’s resources or make your eyes tired from reading the subtitles? Then read what the critics approve, and go and see something else, such as the movie of the moment, Sex and the City, the film of the much loved television series about four women living in a fictional Manhattan where the only rodents are love rats and freelance writers make more money than merchant bankers.
On the film’s home turf, The New York Times said: ‘‘ There is something depressingly stunted about this movie, something desperate too.’’ In the same city’s Post , Lou Lumenick dismissed its ‘‘ endless fashion montages, shameless product placements, lethally slow pacing and utterly predictable plot’’.
In Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph , Melissa Stevens and Fiona Connolly used the movie as a platform to pontificate on how girls just want to have fun ( Stevens) and, like, real women are, you know, serious ( Connolly).
And the cinema’s curmudgeon- in- chief, David Stratton, gave it one out of five stars on the ABC’s At the Movies . ( To be fair, co- host Margaret Pomeranz scored it a four, while Stratton’s Review colleague Evan Williams gave it 21/ stars).
It is typical of international coverage that ranged from the rare rave through ambivalent to outright appalled. And there is no denying it is easy to sneer at SATC.
For a start, at more than two hours it is longer than a speed dater’s dalliance. Certainly the dress inquest and fashion week scenes could have gone with no damage done, but this will not matter much to fans who adored all 94 episodes of the TV show. And the characters remain exactly who they were in the series, which is rather the point.
Some of the criticism is just plain petty. Critics comment on the product placement as if a franchise that poked fun at the central characters’ obsession with clothes could do anything else. And some suggest that the one new character, Louise from St Louis ( played by Jennifer Hudson, who won an Oscar for Dreamgirls ), was invented to ensure the film appealed to young black women, which entirely misses the point of how grounded in the American dream this film is.
You drinks your cocktail and you makes your choice, but what the sneerers show is how the default position of pop culture critics is to play it safe and dismiss any anticipated hit, and how critics are uncomfortable with anything that is, well, popular and appeals to the emotions and aspirations of ordinary people.
Given the popular expectations of SATC, it could well have flopped from day one. The jury is still out on whether the film is a classic romantic comedy or just a simulacrum of the series. Rather than risk saying something positive before the herd moves one way or another, the critics stuck to safe, fault- finding ground.
There are certainly all sorts of ideological explanations why this is a bad film. The feminist Left can dislike it because SATC is about women with careers in their own right making compromises to be happy with husbands. The green Left can despise it because the characters are conspicuous consumers with carbon footprints measured in Manolo Blahniks. And the cineaste Left can deplore it because SATC’s success demonstrates how people who do not have the grounding in cultural studies needed to know what they like insist on acting as if they do.
There are just as many reasons for conservatives to dislike the film. The marriage matters crowd is cross because Samantha, the maneater, keeps doing what comes naturally.
Anybody planning a wedding as performance art should give this flick the, well, flick and see another of this year’s hits, 27 Dresses , a film that really reduces romance to sexist stereotypes. And anybody who thinks their rules specifying with whom adults should have consenting sex are universally applicable will find the film offensive.
There is another, much larger, group that will give SATC a miss: blokes. Most men I know would rather nail one of their testicles to a table than discuss relationships and they would staple the other one beside it before they discussed the finer points of fornication, which makes the movie about as interesting for them as the reruns of Jane Austen adaptations that the ABC has been running.
Which is precisely why female fans will embrace writer- director Michael Patrick King’s film: for the same reason they adore Austen. SATC’s central character, Carrie Bradshaw, is not exactly Elizabeth Bennet. ( Then again, they both have silly sisters and grumpy boyfriends.) But, like Austen, King is an acute observer of his era, at least for upper- class women with the economic power to live the way they want to.
For all the jokes about fashion and the focus on sex ( much less pronounced than in the series), this film is about women working out what to do with their lives in a world where motherhood and men are no longer compulsory. Of the four characters, only Charlotte is deliriously devoted to domesticity. Miranda remains determined to blow up her family life. And it has taken 94 sitcom episodes and a feature for Carrie to work out that the resolute
’ pursuit of love is a sure way not to find it.
As in the series, it is the much misunderstood Samantha who demonstrates the hardest dilemma for women who want to live according to their own code.
Critics say Samantha’s sexual appetite makes her an unattached gay male in female form. But in fact her conspicuous carnal consumption is merely a metaphor for her life as a whole, as a self- employed singleton competing against people who take personal refuge in coupledom and seek corporate cover at work.
Being true to herself means Samantha must be tougher than everybody around her. And in the movie she decides that she has to live the life that suits her, with no compromises. Anyone who tells you this is not a film for feminists must have left before this bit.
The same applies to Louise, who comes to New York to fall in love but instead learns how to survive in the marketplace on her own terms, which are nothing like those of the four main characters. This is the point of SATC, series and film both: it is an affirmation of everybody’s right to work out what they want from life and a celebration of a culture that gives them the opportunity to pursue it.
And that is nothing to sneer at.
matchetts@ theaustralian. com. au