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Sex And The City – men watch out, the girls are about

all girls together

all girls together

Sex And The City – Paul Michael King

Butch to Sundance (trapped on the cliff face, torrent below) “we’ve gotta jump.” Sundance (embarrassed) “I can’t swim.” Butch (laughing) “don’t worry – it’s the fall that’s gonna kill ya.”

I feel a bit like Sundance as I visit Planet ‘Woman’ – where I am sometimes welcome but always alien. I am not at home in this arcane world of handbags that are not just handbags; shoes that are not just shoes; dresses that are certainly not frocks or even essentially just clothing; and sex which is exciting, alluring, scary, complicated, simple – and never, ever just sex. But like Sundance I’ll go for it and leap, knowing whatever I say, it’s the fall that’s gonna kill me. But forgive me ladies, girls, women, Mrs’s, Ms’s and Miss’s; as the scorpion said to the dog carrying him across the raging river after stinging him and they were about to drown – “it’s what I do”.

I’m like the male characters in SATC – a bit part player whose role is to show the real stars off to good effect. Like a once-loved dress, always unsure whether you’ll be kept affectionately in the wardrobe representing fond memories, or discarded ruthlessly when the newer models clamour for space. But my times around the block did teach me the axiomatic truth – it is man’s destiny, never, ever, to understand women; and woman’s only ever to be misunderstood except by her intimate female friends. There’s intimate and intimate and guys don’t even get close – most of the time. This maintains the balance between the sexes on Planet Woman; for men, if they are trying at all, and that’s rarer than it should be, are always kept on one foot trying desperately to understand the woman in their life or even more desperately, not to misunderstand her. This last is worth every ounce of effort – for the penalties are extreme and frequently last longer than the offence, unwitting or not, seems to warrant. But then, we never quite seem to get the depth of the real offence – however hard we try. If only we had some idea in advance, of what we will and what we won’t be forgiven for, we could stray with confidence – but I guess that’s the point. As for the Jude Law’s and Johnny Depp’s of this world with their “you’ll forgive me everything” eyes, well they are just the exceptions that prove the rule. Bastards. No sense of male solidarity at all. Have they no pride? Dirty, rotten lucky swine.

There are five women in SATC: Carrie (Sarah Jessica-Parker) – thoughtful, writer, sassy – loves to let go when the mood takes her; Charlotte (Kristin Davis) – teeth-gratingly happy, loving wife and mum, gives being anally retentive an unlikely charm – can let go with friends to make her feel safe; Miranda (Cynthia Dixon) – lawyer, edgy, bright, for whom motherhood is a compromise and sex something to fit into a busy schedule – can’t let go until pushed or pissed; and Samantha (Kim Catrell) – wry, ironic, built to (many) male-fantasy proportions, preternaturally self-aware sexually Samantha is the money-shot of the commercial success of SATC – always lets go, and loves it. The fifth woman? Well she’s much older than she looks, ever young, vibrant, exciting, constantly evolving but always the same, and endlessly seductive – ‘she’ is New York. The ‘City’ of SATC could only be New York – iconic, cinematic, the city that says ‘I’ve seen it all’……….and then some.

This long-awaited, much-hyped movie will, like it’s similarly long-awaited release-mate Indiana Jones, make a mint. It is, for its devoted fans, critic-proof. As one of only two men in the afternoon cinema, and the other one looked kidnapped, the conspiratorial sisterly laughter, groans of recognition and approval, and occasional triumphal “yes!”, were testimony that whatever made SATC a TV phenomenon has translated to the big screen well enough. Having only seen a few snippets of the TV series, this review just looks at the film. Up to a point I trust popularity so I don’t want to knock it, just try to understand it. Doomed enterprise – cf: above. So….quixotically.

This is manifestly a transfer from TV. It’s structure is episodic, extended to an over-long 2hrs 20mins. The acting is fine, but manifestly more televisual than cinematic in technique. It is notable that almost all the performers and writer/director Michael Patrick-King, come from TV. The performance ‘signals’ of facial gestures, body language required to deliver the emotion, the punch-line, the meaning on the homogenising ‘box’ are too much for the cinema where less is more. The acting style therefore re-enforces the transfer-from-TV feeling.

It’s a John o’ Groats to Lands End plot: where you start is unremarkable and where you end more satisfying but predictable. It’s the journey not the destination that engages. The big benefit of the delay in transferring this iconic ‘woman’s’ programme to the big screen, is that our sexy sisters are in or near their 50s, struggling with the realities of established life-decisions, kids, careers, etc. Or in Carrie’s case finally overcoming paralysis by analysis and making her definitive life-decision which is the main plot thread. Predictably Samantha’s ‘coming to God’ of self-realisation will be a deathbed confession – “Lord give me peace and tranquillity, virtue and penance………..but not yet.” And why not? Samantha is the sexy, rude, vulgar, disarmingly honest, self-accepting spice of this tasty but potentially bland dish of friends. She’s the counterpoint that brings their compromises and insecurities, especially sexual, into perspective.

There is on Planet Woman a major city called Weddington in the land of Marriageania. It is, if anything, even more arcane, mysterious and totally incomprehensible to men than the planet itself. The trouble is, most men visit, many stay and while some leave they keep coming back. A bit Like Las Vegas I suppose – you always think you’ll win next time.

This strange, exotic land is full of strange exotic rituals performed in strange exotic dress and dresses. Men are always delivered to this city blindfold and have to acclimatise fast once they can see about them. Many fail. Suffice for a review to say that Carrie’s long-standing and oft-lying, in both senses Mr Big (how resonant is that!) has some trouble feeling at home in Weddington. We gather Mr Big, or ‘Big’ for short – if short is quite the right word, is a financier who has visited Weddington twice before with dire results. Being a financier his biggest gift, well bar one I suppose, to Carrie is a built-in clothes closet marginally under-sized compared with the Oxford Street branch of John Lewis.

Lots of angst, much breast-beating, some breast-baring, interminable forensic self-examination and rigorous life-appraisal later and our roller-coaster ride is over. Devotees will have loved every minute. The uncommitted women and unreconstructed men will have had some laughs, no shocks – even guys have got used to the idea that women can like sex and enjoy talking ‘dirty’ – and been entertained. The humour we must say is a bit broad: from Charlotte’s supposedly hilarious alfresco encounter with Montezuma’s revenge in Mexico, to Hollywood’s mystifyingly favourite, sadly unsuppressible sight-gag – a dog that humps every soft toy, unguarded handbag, or $300 cushion (300 bucks! Only in SATC) that doesn’t move.

The men characters are all place markers: like male mannequins mischievously anatomically correct and left unclothed in the window for a laugh waiting to be dressed up. The delightful Jennifer Hudson (Oscar-winner as Effie White in Dreamgirls) adds a bit of sass and big-screen know-how to proceedings as Carrie’s unlikely PA.

SATC is a cunningly constructed package: it takes strong but contradictory emotional and personal traits all women perhaps possess to varying degrees and splits them into four separate characters: frank unrestrained sexuality and sexual fantasy; motherliness and wifehood; ambition, professionalism and the conflicts that generates; and artistic creativity and independence. This cleverly hits all markets – most women will find something in SATC to identify with, the age dimension now adding a little weight to this context. It is also encouraging that the women in their own way like men and even love them – despite their genetically undeserving, irredeemable natures.

But strip away all the hype, the market-positioning and commercial calculation and there is still a question – why this show, why this mix? The answer I think is friendship. What SATC captures and one can glimpse through the packaging is that at times we see the unique, intimate, deep bond that is female friendship. This is friendship that has an honesty, directness, even emotional courage and generosity, that makes women like themselves better and incidentally leads men with even half a brain love them more. But this is a private place on Planet Woman: men and women thankfully can be friends, but in the love that they feel for one another sex always resonates somewhere near the epicentre of feeling. The friendship between women expresses a kind of love not found between men; one in which sex and sexuality is a crucial, but not always defining part. The best parallel I can think of is that very special bond that musicians have – unspoken, instinctive and at its best putting ego to the service of the shared pleasure of making music together. Music, like true friendship, is a form of life.

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