Jonathan Poritsky

Sex, Sight Unseen

I don’t make much secret about being an avid reader of the New York Times movie reviews. Though my blog­ging brethren (and sistren) offer prime insight, I came of age as a critic read­ing A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis, oscil­lat­ing between lov­ing and hat­ing them as my alle­giances and beliefs have grown over the years. This week, Manohla added to the con­ver­sa­tion sur­round­ing Sex and the City 2, which was reviewed for the Times by Mr. Scott. We rarely get to see the opin­ion of both crit­ics save for year-end roundups, so this is an extra treat so close to release.

I haven’t seen SATC2 yet, so one really ought to take my thoughts with a grain of salt. I’ve enjoyed the smat­ter­ing of episodes of the series that I’ve seen and I found the first film funny, if grat­ing. New York on film holds a place dear to my heart. It seems even its most gifted cel­lu­loid sculp­tors have had trou­ble repro­duc­ing it in the last decade (I’m talk­ing to you, Woody Allen). The dia­logue around this lat­est fan­ta­sia, as Ms. Dargis points out, is largely related to ques­tions of eth­no­cen­tric­ity and racial sensitivities:

To bor­row a tac­tic from the TV show, which invari­ably fea­tured Carrie pos­ing the week’s Big Question to her read­ers: Was “Sex” actu­ally 50 per­cent worse the sec­ond time around? Not from where I was seated, though I hap­pily con­cede that the sequel is about as bad as the orig­i­nal. They’re just lousy in dif­fer­ent ways. The new sex puns (“Lawrence of my labia”) are as wince induc­ing as the old, and Mr. King’s direc­tion remains strictly small screen. What has changed are the loca­tions: in the first film, the friends visit Mexico (funny!), but this time, they yuk it up in the Middle East (not funny!). But what has really changed? The char­ac­ters, the crit­ics, the con­text: how quickly yesterday’s plea­sure can pop, just like an eco­nomic bubble.

I have to agree with her. Like Michael Bay’s Transformers 2 before it, this film makes the per­fect tar­get for any num­ber of deri­sions. Mexico is funny because we don’t mind get­ting a lit­tle racist when it comes to our neigh­bors to the south. When it comes to the Middle East, we tread softly because of national ten­sions and, hon­estly, per­sonal fears. So I’ll give Manohla, and this film, that much.

Where I get annoyed, how­ever, is in her closing:

This and other scenes of the women with Muslims are often awk­ward, though that’s partly a func­tion of Mr. King’s direc­tion. Yet there’s also some­thing touch­ing about a few of these encoun­ters, as when the women won­der how you eat fries when you’re wear­ing a veil, a ques­tion that strikes me as an unchar­ac­ter­is­ti­cally hon­est admis­sion of dif­fer­ence in a main­stream American movie. Too bad the women weren’t guys and went to Las Vegas, where they could have indulged in the kind of crit­i­cally sanc­tioned mas­cu­line polit­i­cal incor­rect­ness that made “The Hangover” such a darling.

I did not like The Hangover all that much, and I com­pletely agree with her sen­ti­ment that mas­cu­line stu­pid­ity often goes unques­tioned onscreen. However, that doesn’t exactly make for much of an excuse. The first Sex and the City film was lauded for its abil­ity to rake in mil­lions while boast­ing a cast of female leads, a rar­ity in this busi­ness. The same goes for the show, though it should be noted that today (not in 1998 when the show first aired) women are in con­trol of tele­vi­sion pro­gram­ming in a big way. Phenomena like Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives are a tes­ta­ment to this shift.

Regardless, does the sta­tus of Carrie and pals offer lee­way on their level of polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness? For my part, no. Nor should it let The Hangover guys off the hook, but the dif­fer­ence there seems to be that that film knew exactly what it wanted to be. If SATC2 actu­ally is a bad film, then hope­fully it is a bad film on merit alone. We should not for­get that we now live in a world where a woman has won an Oscar for Best Director, and for a film with no female leads. I think it is short sighted to chalk neg­a­tive reac­tions up to crit­i­cal sexism.

But I haven’t seen the film and I’m a dude, so what do I know?

Leave a Reply