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New Yorker hostility beyond being ‘just not that into’ SATC

pkamens Icon Posted by Paula Kamen

June 10th, 2008

First, let me qualify that it’s not anti-feminist or anti-woman to pan a female-driven film, even the record-breaking romantic-comedy moneymaker, the “Sex and the City Movie.” So I’m not saying that all male critics have been sexist in their almost universal stink-bombing of it. After all, the film, which I’d rate at about 2 stars, has its flaws. While I generally enjoyed my opening-night viewing of the film, in a crowd of mostly cheering 20somethings near the Northwestern U campus in Evanston, I couldn’t help but question much of it. (Warning: multiple spoilers to come.)

The most untrue note was Carrie’s supposedly happily ending with Mr. Big, who has caused her even more wrenching pain through the years than those arch-killing Manolos. After how he’s let her down for years, any good therapist would tell her to run away, that a man who stands you up on the altar is indeed really “not that into you.” The biggest fantasy of all of the show was that an inveterate commitment phobe would suddenly want to commit.

Plus, it was at least a half hour too long.

But the reviews have gone above and beyond just criticizing the movie to being very defensive about the characters’ sexuality, to the point of exhibiting a strange hostility. A case in point is the review in the current “New Yorker” (June 9 and 16, 2008) by Anthony Lane (page 112). A red flag is the full-page Ralph Steadman illustration accompanying the article caricaturing the four leads as witch-like over-the-hill harpies. The ugliness in their faces is more pronounced than in any caricature I’ve ever seen in the magazine, even of someone who really has committed true crimes against humanity, like say Osama bin Laden.

Lane basically dismisses the four leads as “hormonal hobbits, all obsessed with a ring.” Actually, two of the subplots, of Miranda and Samantha, actively question marriage and men as the source of absolute fulfillment. The movie’s grand theme, for all four characters, is basically not their having “sex in the city,” but wrestling with concepts of commitment in their 40s. Miranda feels trapped her in her marriage, and spends the film weighing its value. At the end, Samantha actually breaks up with her dreamy sweet young lover because she does feel like she is losing herself, having left all her friends and her NYC world behind to be with him in LA.

The language of the review is extreme, such as the last line:

All the film lacks is a subtitle: ‘The Lying, the Bitch, and the Wardrobe.’

(The feministish blog Jezebel has also observed the particular viciousness of the review, pointing out Lane’s disgust at Samantha’s body and appetites. But New York Magazine, disagrees. Both picture the over-the-top Steadman illustration, which does match the tone of the review.)

In contrast, even while being critical, reviews by women have taken on a different and less hostile tone, recognizing the true cultural signficance of the subject matter, beyond the absolute surface. One of the most positive and interesting that I’ve seen is by Jessica Reaves, an actual young woman, who reviewed the film for the “Chicago Tribune.” While recognizing its superficiality, she also gets at some of the meat of it, which is based on a new world in which women, now in the workforce and educated in new numbers, don’t need men as a meal ticket. Instead, they are going through the dramatic process of redefining those relationships on their own terms, without losing their selves in the process. A reason why that show, and that movie, have been such phenomena, is that its one cultural force out there actively exposing these new realities, which have been evolving under the surface of American life for the past 4 decades. (Plug: See my book, Her Way, for an analysis.)

Reaves writes:

So while “Sex and the City” provides plenty of eye candy for the ladies (think naked men and haute couture), it’s also a movie about friendship and marriage, parenthood and middle age, presenting a great opportunity to yank “women’s” films out of the cinematic ghetto. Consider this: Every summer brings an influx of big-budget action movies, none of them categorized by gender, and we all traipse off to the theater and expect to be entertained. Period. Women don’t rend their clothes and weep about the coming apocalypse every time a new Bruce Willis film is released….

Appearances, so integral to the ethos of this franchise, are often deceiving. This movie is no exception: Like the television series, it looks like a sugary, insubstantial confection, seemingly no more capable of bearing weight than the spidery stilettos that line Carrie’s closets, and just as easily written off. But beneath its delicate exterior is a carefully engineered marvel, surprisingly substantial—and, as Samantha might sigh happily, totally satisfying.

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