Crit­ics in need of a life

STEPHEN MATCHETT

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Rear View -

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

Il­lus­tra­tion: Jon Kudelka

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