It’s been four years since Sex and the City, the six-season-long HBO series, ended. High time for a movie reunion, right?
Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte met as single twentysomethings nearly two decades before the film starts, when they all came to New York City in pursuit of—as Carrie puts it—”love and labels.” After years of revolving-door relationships, idealistic Charlotte and workaholic Miranda are married. (Not to each other, mind you, though you’d be forgiven for wondering since the series and the film both give screen time to homosexual relationships.) High-powered publicist Samantha would rather contract cholera than get hitched, so she’s trying her hand at a long-term live-in relationship with Smith, who is both client and lover. Carrie is still with Mr. Big, the same guy she’s been dating—and breaking up with—for a decade.
Since it’s Carrie who’s the center of the story, I’ll add this bit of detail: As fall descends on New York City, Carrie and her “manfriend” are apartment shopping. And though they plan to move in together, they’re not even talking about marriage, at least at first. But a financial security concern eventually prompts Carrie to broach the topic. And Big is surprisingly game.
In a world where fortune and fashion rule, the wedding plans immediately spin out of control, though. And given her rocky history with Big, Carrie worries that he won’t actually make it all the way to the altar.
Sex and the City showcases the friendships of women. While drinking, gossiping and carousing are less-than-laudable aspects of these relationships, some positive attributes take center stage as well. Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha are devoted to each other through thick and thin. They’ll fly cross-country to help out a sister in need. They rejoice in one another’s victories and mourn one another’s sorrows. And from time to time they even work up the nerve to do some needful confronting.
Carrie finds a new friend in her personal assistant, Louise. Bright and dependable, Louise is more than just a hard worker. She helps Carrie overcome a devastating setback.
The film also feels mildly pro-adoption and pro-child because of Charlotte and Harry’s adoption of little Lily from China and their continuing desire to conceive. In addition, Charlotte and Miranda—the only parents among the femme foursome—strive to do what’s best for their children.
A couple in a faltering marriage decides to give it one more go.
Forgiveness is a running theme, as there are several characters who deeply wound one another. But they’re much more likely to lament, “I didn’t mean to hurt you,” than to actually admit they’ve done something wrong. It’s as if they’re sorry because now they’re miserable. Not sorry because they recognize the sin in what they’ve done. Thus, this is a film that promotes forgiveness—but not repentance.
If girl-bonding is the right shoe in this movie’s pair of $525 Manolo Blahniks, sex is the left. From the beginning of the franchise, women having sex “like men” (purely for pleasure, with no emotion or expectation of commitment) has been foundational. And Sex and the City not only kisses and tells, it shows.
Each of the four girls headlines at least one bedroom scene—and Miranda and Samantha star in several. In each, the camera ogles explicit sexual positions and the movements of intercourse. Multiple scenes are shot sans sheets or clothing, with only other body parts (once a groping hand) covering groin areas. Several include breast nudity. A outdoor shower scene includes partial penis exposure. Two women and a man engage in a nude ménage à trois.
Sex and the City also revels in sex talk and sexual gossip. The girls regularly dish about their sexual exploits to each other, including details about how often they bed their partners. Gritty slang abounds and sexual topics include oral sex, orgasms (which we hear), pubic hair (which we see), erections (which we’re tricked into thinking we’re seeing), semen, adultery, sexual boredom, and gay relationships and marriage. (We see two kisses shared by men.)
As Carrie prepares for her wedding, Charlotte often includes young Lily in the festivities. This makes her privy to sexual banter that’s inappropriate for 45-year-olds, much less 5-year-olds. Mimicking what she hears, Lily picks up Carrie’s ringing cell phone and answers, “Sex.”
Fashionistas all, these ladies regularly don clothing that is short, tight and low-cut. And that’s when they go out. At home they’re shown in pajamas, bras and panties. When they attend a show during New York’s Fashion Week, runway models bare even more. Samantha reclines naked on the dining room table, her most private parts barely covered by sushi.
Samantha’s dog frantically tries to have sex with every pillow in sight. A close-up of a painting reveals male genitalia.
In a flashback, Carrie smacks a guy when she learns he’s married. In a rage, she pounds Big with her bouquet of flowers. Equally angry, Samantha flings food at Smith. Carrie makes reference to being “an emotional cutter,” but she’s speaking figuratively.
The f-word pops up about 10 times. The s-word gets a nearly equal workout, as does God’s name. Jesus’ is abused two or three times. Sexual slang includes “d–k.”
The girls consume alcohol nearly every time they’re together, and sometimes they get drunk. A romantic crash-and-burn episode becomes an occasion for the ladies to knock back multiple rounds of margaritas. When Carrie’s down in the dumps, she drinks heavily to compensate.
Carrie’s smoking habit of old doesn’t crop up in the film. But a guest at Carrie and Big’s rehearsal dinner mentions how nice it is to have “an illegal Cuban cigar” after dinner.
One of Sex and the City‘s signature devices is the glorification of a designer New York lifestyle. So it’s no surprise that materialism is not only condoned, but celebrated. These girls and their guys all seem to have incomes—or credit limits—that allow them to easily live lives lavish beyond belief. For instance, Big casually buys Carrie a Fifth Avenue penthouse apartment and, within it, builds her the closet to end all closets. At an auction, Samantha bids $50,000 for a diamond ring, calling it “my baby: the essence of me.” Later, she uses shopping to divert herself from a guy she wants but can’t have.
Carrie’s long-time fetish for designer shoes that cost upwards of $500 is also back with a vengeance. And though she begins her wedding planning by purchasing a simple white suit from a vintage store, the gift of a designer wedding dress “ups the ante” and turns the whole wedding into a haute couture affair. Even those who can’t afford to buy all the NYC glitz and glam—such as Louise—find a way to get a piece of the pie anyway. A rental arrangement allows her to carry a new designer bag every week.
An important subplot is Miranda and Steve’s struggling marriage. The effort they eventually put into staying together is laudable, but Carrie’s advice to Miranda is not. She tells her lawyer friend to make the decision about whether to divorce Steve with her emotions, not her logical mind.
To the great giggling delight of her friends, Charlotte gets sick during a Mexico vacation and has a noisy “accident” in her pants.
Since Sex and the City ended its run on HBO in 2004, the franchise has continued to gather devotees through the airing of a (somewhat) cleaned-up syndicated version on basic-cable channel TBS. At last count, nearly 2 million viewers were tuning in for each episode. Maybe that explains the significant media and pop-culture hype surrounding this movie’s release.
Or maybe something else does.
Could it be that a steady diet of Sex (and its prolific knock-offs) over the past decade has lowered the cultural common denominator? Have Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha made women feel better about themselves by not just excusing, but glamorizing their baser instincts? “Lisa” didn’t give her real name to ABC News, but she did tell them that she started watching Sex and the City when she was 14, the same year she lost her virginity, cheated on her boyfriend with seven different guys in one week and began ordering cocktails at bars she snuck into. In her words: “When you’re that age, you try to emulate the people on TV. Carrie smoked, so I smoked. Samantha looked at hooking up with random people as not a big deal, so that’s what I did too. It wasn’t Sex and the City‘s fault. I love the show, but I think it made it a little easier to justify my behavior.”
I get the appeal of this kind of reunion movie. I get why women can fall in love with these characters. But rather than loving them despite their vices, audiences seem to love them for those tawdry traits. If you can laugh at sex-crazed Samantha, somehow it’s easier to excuse your own lust. And if you can snicker at neurotic Miranda, maybe you’ll feel better about your own lopsided priorities. The danger of Sex and the City isn’t so much that every viewer will become like Lisa and start turning themselves into a carbon copy of Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda or Samantha, but that we’ll all become just a little bit more comfortable with our own sinful selves.
Interestingly, while Sex and the City plays like a two-hour-plus commercial for worldly wickedness, the lust of the flesh and the Prada-wearing devil, I couldn’t help but notice something contrarian to all that: For all the girls’ talk about the glories of being single and sleeping around in New York City, the film can’t help but hold marriage up as the ideal. The text vs. subtext regarding wedded bliss is more than a little baffling. Big and Carrie’s engagement is initially a business transaction. Then his past failures at marriage give him cold feet and cause him to stand her up at the altar. Later the couple literally apologizes to each other for messing up a perfectly good relationship with talk of marriage—which everybody onscreen seems to know ruins everything.
Then, a bombshell. Instead of settling back into their “comfortable” cohabitation, Big gets down on one knee, proposes properly and marries Carrie in a simple ceremony. Who would have thought that as Sex and the City packs up and heads to the country after a far-too-long stay on TV and now the movie screen, three of the four women would be married? And glad to be so?
Don’t give the movie too much credit though. After all, this is a story so consumed with consumables that its most emotional scene involves Carrie getting her first look at her new clothes closet. Its best stab at being funny? Charlotte’s “accident.” And despite the wedding bells, its best moral is that emotions should be given free rein. If Carrie, Charlotte and Miranda want to get and stay married because it makes them feel good, well, that’s great, it says. And if Samantha wants to bed a new guy every night until she’s 90, well, that’s great, too.