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It would take a lot of Cosmos to erase the horror that is the karaoke scene in Sex and the City 2. The ladies are in an Abu Dhabi nightclub, vacationing gratis in the United Arab Emirates courtesy of a wealthy hotel owner who may become one of Samantha’s clients. She secretly signs up the group to get onstage and warble, and when Charlotte worries that she may not know the song, Samantha tells her: “Oh, you know it.” At which point you’re thinking: “I Will Survive?” “Hit Me With Your Best Shot?” “Don’t Stop Believin’?”
Try “I Am Woman.”
Anyone who thought, Really? on Oscar night when Kathryn Bigelow was escorted to a snippet of that tune after she won Best Director will cringe at the spectacle. The four ultra-modern women — Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Samantha (Kim Cattrall), and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) — make like Helen Reddy and enthusiastically belt the feminist anthem as the burqa’d members of the audience sing along, getting empowered. Just a wee bit in-your-face, no?
That message isn’t the only thing that’s in your face during the film’s seemingly endless 146 minutes. Among the absurdities: Samantha sitting at her desk, panties approximately midcalf, as she “freshens up” for a date. Charlotte’s curvy, braless Irish nanny jumping up and down and later getting her white tank wet while a wacky jig accompanies her jiggling endowments. And — just to be fair — multiple close-ups of the kind of packages you don’t take home from Bergdorf Goodman. Fans are probably used to seeing these ladies lounge around their homes in couture and heels. Yet when Charlotte freaks out because one of her children gets red paint on her vintage cream Valentino, you want to yell, “Well, what did you think would happen, you dipshit?”
Not that the rest of the sequel to 2008’s OK-enough movie version of the usually terrific HBO series doesn’t test your patience as well. Besides writer-director Mark Patrick King’s bizarre decision to send these I-Love-New Yorkers to the Middle East — though, for political reasons, the film was shot in Morocco — nearly everything that made the show fun is gone. The fashion is hideous. (Even Sarah Jessica Parker told Entertainment Weekly that they were “dressed like lunatics” during a camel-riding scene.) The puns are awful. (Samantha, going through menopause and having difficulty getting turned on, cries “Lawrence of my labia!” after meeting a handsome man in the desert. Because the desert’s the place to be to meet eligible men.) And the frank, open-minded remarks about sexuality are occasionally borderline offensive. (“Just when you thought that everyone was too old to get married,” Carrie says, “here come the gays!”)
The latter is front-loaded as the film kicks off at Stanford (Willie Garson) and Anthony’s (Mario Cantone) wedding. There’s a lot of talk about the gay-this and gay-that, how gay the garish setting is, and even — get ready for your head to hit the keyboard — a pan of the alternative-lifestyle-member chorus as they sing “Sunrise, Sunset.” Exactly during the line of “even as we gaze.” Oof.
In light of all that, it’s somewhat shocking that one of the campiest elements of the film is also one of its most entertaining: Ms. Liza Minnelli cameos as the wedding officiant and tops things off with a creakier but nonetheless impressive re-creation of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” video. Yes, Minnelli proves a woman of the ’00s while the gals are musically stuck in the ’70s.
SATC 2 is best, ironically, when it gets serious. Subplots include Carrie and Big (Chris Noth) struggling with the reality of their spicy courtship devolving into a predictable take-out-and-TV marriage. Charlotte is beside herself caring for two young daughters, one colicky; this leads to a moving conversation between her and Miranda about the true difficulties and guilt of motherhood (i.e. shutting yourself in another room while your toddler screams, not competing to get into a good daycare). There are even a couple of throwaway lines about the economy.
This is not a universe, however, in which a recession can exist beyond a bit of dialogue. Once they get to Abu Dhabi, the decadence is nearly suffocating. The women fly in a private plane with individual cabins, each gets her own driver and butler when they arrive, everything is gilded in their huge, $22,000-a-night suite.
And this is what the film boils down to: The franchise is no longer about friendship or romance or the concerns of middle-aged-but-fabulous women. It’s a marathon of shopping, eating, oooh-ing, and gasping. Or, for the viewers, retching and dozing.