I really wanted to love this movie. I remember watching aghast and delighted in the late '90's as these four amazing women sat around a table in a New York City diner talking about oral sex and multiple orgasms. It was funny, it was shocking, and it was totally new. Sex and the City - the television show - breathed new life into old T.V. fare. But this wasn't television. This was a film that needed its own discrete plot and direction, its own life-and-death stakes. But apparently, no one told that to writer-director-producer Michael Patrick King.
What you see from the get-go is that nothing has changed all that much since the last film. Carrie and Big are married and Charlotte and Harry now have two daughters. Otherwise - it's status quo. And whereas the first SATC film really delved into the troubled waters of relationships, this one barely skims the surface. Carrie is worried that her life with Big is boring because he keeps a T.V. in the bedroom and spends too much time on the couch. Charlotte has to run into her pantry to cry because she can't take the pressure of being a mother for the five minutes that her nanny is away. This is not earth-shattering stuff here. And partly because the stakes are not there, and partly because the script has almost none of the wit we've come to expect from Michael Patrick King, we stop caring pretty early on.
The film very slowly gets us to what is meant to be the real draw here - the ladies going on an all-expenses-paid trip to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates to check out a new luxury hotel. But while this isn't meant to be a travelogue, I fear it speaks volumes about the film that the most compelling parts of this trip are when we actually get to see a bit of the country and when Miranda instructs the girls in Middle Eastern protocol and language from her pile of travel books.
As for plot, it's barely there. And what is there is either an overplayed struggle of womanhood (such as Samantha's wrestling with menopause or Charlotte's disdain for motherhood) or wasted opportunities for real drama. For example, the trailer makes it pretty clear that Carrie meets up with her former love, Aidan, in a bazaar in the heart of Abu Dhabi. But instead of capitalizing on this coincidence - this turn of events that should have Carrie fans wringing their hands in indecision as to whether they want her to be faithful to Big or fall back in love with the incredibly perfect Aidan - the meet-up is treated rather perfunctorily. We don't get to see a real reunion with the pair spending time together in this exotic wonderland. Instead, we get a brief segment of only a few minutes that has Carrie acting more like a guilty sixteen year-old than a self-assured woman in her 40's.
The real problem with this film is the writing. It seems that Michael Patrick King has no more stories to tell about these women, but was simply compelled to bring them back to the screen to keep the financial success of the franchise going. Gone are the hilarious one-liners, replaced with corny "Carrie-isms" such as "We're going to have an interfriendtion." At one point I actually winced when a flight attendant on the airplane asked Carrie if she had anything to declare, and Carrie answered, "Yes. I'm a mess." Yikes. And since when does that question not happen at Customs in the airport?
But beyond the really tired writing was a pretty blatant underlying message about feminism and railing against the oppression of women in the Muslim culture. Perhaps I could have been nuanced into seeing what King was trying to convey, but instead he repeatedly beat the audience over the head with his pro-sexual-woman-anti-Muslim stick. The girls getting up to sing "I am Woman" (the oh-so-relevant Helen Reddy song from 1972) and being joined in by excited women from all over the night club - seeming to realize their own strength and power for the very first time because of this campy show put on by garish Americans - made me begin to feel a bit sick. I mean, come ON. Couple this with an overly earnest discussion about the extreme difficulty of mothering children with full-time, live-in childcare help, and a foul-mouthed, barely dressed Samantha flinging condoms in the faces of disdainful Muslim men, and you see how this movie is more of a political trainwreck than entertainment.
I will say, however, that there is one truly redeeming moment in this film - and it is the performance of Liza Minelli. Called upon to officiate the wedding of Stanford and Anthony (another highly unlikely turn in the road), Liza Minelli brings the house down with a musical number that isn't to be missed. In fact, for this one reason I would suggest that it is worth your time to rent the DVD. And unlike me sitting in the theater, you won't be forced to wait it out through the end of this movie that seems to drag on forever.
All in all, I was terribly disappointed in this film. These actresses are talented and it's time they find a better way to spend their time. Because I'm afraid after this, the seats will all be empty for "Sex and the City 3."