Sex and the City‘s superficial fans couldn’t give a shit, but I still have to ask: Is a demeaning representation better than no representation at all? When Jennifer Hudson appears on screen in Sex and the City, the only sane way to respond to the Oscar-winning actress’s performance is with a Homer Simpson-esque shudder, not because Hudson can’t act—most people could tell you that from watching Dreamgirls, in which Hudson’s “soulful” singing was meant to distract (some might say successfully) from reality—but because the American Idol also-ran allows herself to be typecast as a modern-day mammy to Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw. The way Michael Patrick King tells it, you wouldn’t think much has changed since the Civil War-era plantation, as Hudson’s Louise is exactly to Carrie what Butterfly McQueen’s Prissy was to Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind.
Sex and the City was preferable on television, negating race on Sunday nights in much the same way as the superior Friends did on must-see Thursdays. On the movie screen, King’s desperate attempt at “racial balance” pathetically backfires but at least proves useful in putting the show’s inherently materialistic and borderline-supremacist ethos into sharper focus. In the film, Louise knows nuthin’ ‘bout birthin’ babies, but she knows a hella lot about email spam blocking, HTML coding and corny password encryption, so when Carrie’s life falls to pieces after—spoiler alert, shut your browser!—after Big (Chris Noth) doesn’t show up to their wedding, Louise is there to lift her up: Just like a prayer, she takes Carrie there—at which point the girl is dutifully discarded by the story. Hard to believe that anyone would ever come to New York City just to find “love” (as Louise claims), but a Sex and the City movie wouldn’t be a Sex and the City movie without the horseshit—and at two-and-a-half hours, there’s lots of it here.
Picking up four years after the show’s series finale, the movie begins with Carrie encapsulating what’s happened to her, Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) since then, boldly declaring that they all “still feel like single girls.” Yay, fun! Carrie’s line—like much of her birdbrain ramblings—is dubious in its frivolity. The girls are coupled but they still feel unattached, which is either Carrie or King’s way of perpetuating this reductive philosophy that only a single woman knows how to get down—proof that Carrie’s writings are not to be taken seriously (not that stupider real-life romance columnists have achieved her level of acclaim) and/or that King understands how his show panders to a Cosmopolitan chic with a sketchy feminine mystique of the sexy, smart and eternally single girl.
The movie exaggerates some of the show’s worst habits but also reminds us of some of the great character work its actors were capable of. Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), the most recognizably human of these girls, again gets the richest material: When Steve (David Eigenberg) cheats on her, she refuses to forgive him and moves out of their Brooklyn brownstone. Her plotline struggles for attention, but King dares to suggest that Miranda may be as much to blame for Steve’s indiscretion, and if their reunion on the Brooklyn Bridge is sweet, so is the way the couple’s struggle for forgiveness is echoed elsewhere in the movie—or maybe the connections between the different storylines don’t feel as strenuous as they did on the show because there’s no shrill narration by Carrie to tie the ribbon. (Consider this one of the perks of seeing Carrie graduate from advice columns to writing books fulltime—just steer clear of Barnes & Noble.)
Poor Cattrall must have exhausted all the good nasties from her playbook during the show’s run because her bon mots feel as forced as Carrie and her giant wedding gown being squeezed into a limo, a sight that resembles—to quote Mario Cantone’s Anthony—a cream puff being pushed through a keyhole. Sometimes she has nothing to say at all, luridly gawking at the guy—named Dante, if only to permit a reference to inferno and justify his devilishly inviting cock—who lives adjacent to the West Coast beach house she shares with Smith (Jason Lewis), and though much of her running time is spent coming and going to Manhattan or talking on the phone (call it Suzanne Sommers Syndrome), dammit if Cattrall doesn’t wring poignancy from the selfish act she commits at the end of the film against her live-in man toy. She may or may not fail in the end (guess we’ll find out in the sequel), but you have to admire her chutzpah for declaiming her independence without defiling her promise of monogamy to Smith.
As for Charlotte and Carrie, well, they still suck, but never as badly as the movie’s crass celebration of luxe. Beginning with the vile Carrie presuming that all women come to New York for “labels” and “love,” King pile-drives his way through one ugly-looking tableau after another of materialistic hedonism, from Carrie swooning at the sight of the penthouse Big buys her to her posing in a series of wedding dresses for Vogue. One of those dresses is by Vivienne Westwood, who gives it to Carrie so she can wear it on her wedding day, and given that Carrie barely bats an eye when she sees it (or its accompanying hand-written note—hello, eBay!) is but one sign of this woman’s off-putting sense of privilege. Business as usual for Sex and the City, and even though the ending is predicated on a sense of women and men—extravagance and sensibility—meeting each other half way, how typical that the deal is sealed with $525 Manolos.