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Tuesday, October 14, 2008
  DVD Review: Sex and the City

Not too long ago, I reviewed The Hills: Season 3 DVD set, and in that review I mentioned that, going in, I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to get through the entire season, let alone in one day, as I challenged myself to do. Turns out I did (read the results here), and as far away as I am from popular MTV reality show's target audience, The Hills ended up drawing me in. So given the fact that I'd made it through an entire season of The Hills, when I received the deluxe two-disc DVD of Sex and the City: The Movie, I figured this review would be child's play. After all, if I could make it through 20-plus episodes of possibly the most vapiThe girls are back! And I'm using exclamation points!d show in a genre of television known for its vapidity (in one day, it bears repeating), two-plus hours of an actual narrative film would be a walk in the proverbial park. Boy, was I wrong.

I'm going to go ahead and assume right now that none of you reading this has, in fact, been living under a rock for the past decade and change, so you already know what Sex and the City is and what it's all about. Four women in New York City have sex and talk about it, and go shopping for shoes and dresses designed by apparently very important people, almost none of whom I've heard of. Even more so than with The Hills, I am pretty much the exact opposite of the show's – and now the movie's – target demographic, a fact I kept in mind during the entire review process. Even still, Sex and the City: The Movie, despite that post-colon declaration, barely qualifies as such.

The film picks up a few years after the end of the HBO series with two of the ladies married, and the other two in long-term, committed relationships. The plot – which matters in this film about as much as in your average kung fu movie – involves Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) marrying Mr. Big (Chris Noth), except things don't go smoothly, and they spend most of the movie apart until they eventually reconcile in standard romantic comedy fashion. But as I said, Sex and the City is not the sort of movie where the plot is important. This movie is all about the characters and what they're wearing. In one of the extras on disc 2, the movie's costume designer (I think), a woman with fuchsia hair and a face like a shrunken apple, describes the Sex and the City movie as a big, indulgent dessert to follow the meal that was the show. It's a very apt comparison, as I felt like an outsider while trying to watch it; I could never shake the feeling that there were lots of references throughout that I wasn't picking up on (a fact confirmed by writer-director Michael Patrick King on the commentary track). And when it was done, I felt a little sick.

Sex and the City is clearly intended to be a gift to fans of the show, a sort of going-away present from the cast and crew to fans. Which is great, on one level: it means that if you are a fan of the show, you will almost certainly enjoy this movie (and the more you love the show, the more you'll love the film). But on the other hand, it means that if you're not familiar with the Sex and the City brand, this film literally offers nothing. For me, it was two-and-a-half hours (seriously!) of aging, proudly superficial women talking about sex and clothing designers I'm not familiar with. A review I read when the movie was released theatrically likened it to the female equivalent of a big, brainless, testosterone-driven action movie – it's all sensational thrills (often in the form of fancy dresses) with no regard for plot, characters or narrative. It's a pretty accurate comparison, only the fictional "male" version of Sex and the City would be two-and-a-half hours of pure, over-the-top violence (we're talking graphically-exploding heads, motorcycles being ridden atop of moving trains, people fighting while jumping from one helicopter to another and a body count in the triple digits), with a 10-minute montage of topless Hooters waitresses on trampolines thrown in for good measure.

The other thing I feel compelled to mention is Jennifer Hudson's role as Louise, Carrie's assistant. The character was introduced, as King himself says on the commentary, for the express purpose of addressing the criticism that the series was far too white for a show set in New York City (a charge leveled against similarly all-white, NYC-set sitcoms like Seinfeld and Friends). And while I guess King's heart is in the right place, if he really wanted to show black people in a positive light, he probably shouldn't have made the first black character in Sex and the City Carrie's assistant; I was pretty uncomfortable with Hudson's character spending her relatively brief time in the film fetching Carrie's lattes, sorting through her e-mails and fixing up her website for her. Couple that with the fact that her character's role in the plot is basically just to help "fix" Carrie's life cuts a little too close to the "magical negro" stereotype, and it almost makes things worse than if they hadn't included her at all.

But all of my problems with Sex and the City are pretty much academic. Most of this film's target audience has probably already bought the DVD and watched it repeatedly. And for all my issues with the film's lackOh Samantha, you cad! of interest in telling a coherent, stand-alone story (there's a montage of Carrie modeling different wedding dresses that goes on so long it's basically a music video embedded in the movie), I can't say it's a poorly made film from a technical standpoint. Michael Patrick King, a veteran of the series, is a competent enough filmmaker, though his script was remarkably unfunny, filled with bizarrely sophomoric humour (he mentions on the commentary that in a scene in an auction, he desperately wanted Samantha's paddle number to be "69," a joke Beavis and Butthead would find clever; thankfully the auction house said no). It's well-shot, and all the costumes and shoes are lovingly photographed – I’m sure it’s wonderful eye candy if you’re into this sort of stuff. But personally, when I sit down to watch a film, I'm looking for more something with more depth than your average shampoo commercial. Even moreso than with The Hills, my grade reflects only my opinion, and if the Sex and the City movie sounds like it may be your cup of tea, by all means, enjoy. I'll be waiting for something with a little more substance. Or at least some kung fu.



The two-disc Sex and the City DVD comes with a fair assortment of extras, including the hot new gimmick of DVD extras, the “digital copy,” allowing you to take a legal version of the movie with you on your computer. There's a segment in which writer-director Michael Patrick King interviews star Sarah Jessica Parker about the film, as well as a featurette on the costumes and shoes (no movie in history probably has put more emphasis on costumes and shoes). Both are frothy, fun and interesting to people who are into that sort of thing, I'm sure, but I don't know a Choo from a Blahnik, so it's all the same to me (again, the action-movie comparison came to mind while watching this; it reminded me of the gun-porn special features on many action movie DVDs focusing on weapons). There are also a few deleted scenes, but given that this is the extended version of the film, there aren't many (thankfully; this thing is already almost as long as There Will Be Blood). And there's a brief featurette on Fergie working on the soundtrack.

There's also audio commentary from King on the entire movie, and it was here that I gained a little more appreciation for the film itself. King knows what he's doing, and as much as I may not care for this movie or his strangely crude sense of humour (he seems to think a scene in which a character literally poops her pants is high comedy), he has a very clear understanding of the characters, the show, and most importantly, the fanbase, and it shows. The movie, I learned through King's commentary, is filled with little references to beloved episodes, and the affection he has for the characters and the actresses who play them comes across.

Overall, Sex and the City: The Movie is a treat for fans of the show, and the deluxe DVD has plenty of material for them to enjoy.

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