Monday, June 2, 2008

Overhyped. Overexposed. And surprisingly good.

Like a zillion other gay men and straight women, I hit the multiplex this past weekend for Sex and the City. (You may have heard of it. It's a small independent film which had very little advance publicity.) The thing is, I'm not a hardcore fan of the show; the TV-to-screen adaptation I'm really looking forward to this summer involves flashlights, something creepy, and Gillian Anderson. But even for a Sex novice like me (I've seen a handful of episodes, finding them by turns enjoyable and unbearably cheesy), the big screen version was thoroughly delightful. After all the hype-- and a smattering of mixed to negative reviews-- I was primed for mediocrity or worse. Fortunately, the cast and crew seem to have taken their time with something that actually respects its audience and gives us a reason to spend $11 instead of staying in and watching those DVDs. The movie quickly catches us up on who these ladies were and where they are now (with that interminable Fergie song "Labels or Love" in the background-- enough to drive anyone to drink multiple Cosmos), then revisits them as they go about their lives. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) is still with Mr. Big (Chris Noth) but now they're moving in together and planning a wedding. Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is living in Brooklyn-- which may as well be Guam by these Manhattan-centric gals' standards-- with her husband Steve (David Eigenberg) and son. Charlotte (Kristin Davis) remains as happy as can be with her gentle husband Harry (Evan Handler) and cute-as-a-button daughter. Across the country, sex-lovin' Samantha (Kim Cattrall, older but no less hard-bodied) is doing her damndest to embrace domesticity with her man meat actor husband Smith (Jason Lewis, older but no less hard-bodied)-- but never fear, she cross commutes so much that we barely realize she left New York. That the Big wedding doesn't go off without a hitch is no spoiler (the trailer reveals as much) and this emotional crisis drives the rest of the movie. Carrie's friends rush to her aid, while she tries to put the pieces of her life back together with an earnest young assistant (Jennifer Hudson, appealing in a fairly non-descript part). Her heartbreak seems to have a ripple effect on her pals, as Miranda grapples with Steve's infidelity, Samantha grows increasingly restless (and, thanks to a porn-on-legs neighbor, horny), and Charlotte... well, actually, Charlotte spends the majority of the run time in blissful contentment, though she does dream up some choice words with which to reprimand Big. (There are probably few things funnier than seeing someone so docile and sweet get really, really pissed.) Over the course of its nearly 2 and a half hour runtime-- which thankfully feels earned and not padded out-- the film manages to hit on hard emotional truths while also providing us with the requisite number of laughs, fashions, and sex. The writing and direction are strong, but so are the actresses-- these women are all professionals with an easy, lived-in chemistry with one another that elevates the film far beyond typical romantic comedies. Parker, with her long features and bony frame, has never been a conventional beauty, but her charisma and likability can't be emphasized enough. This is an actress idolized by millions for embodying the trials and tribulations of young adult (and now middle-aged) life while simultaneously wowing us in a succession of fantastic looks. She does the same in Sex, the movie, as Carrie reins in the banal observations (mostly) and struggles to stand on her own two feet while fulfilling her hunger for love and commitment. Sure, Big is a cad, but as the movie thoughtfully suggests, sometimes emotion is more important than logic. (And who among us hasn't loved a cad at one time or another?) The rest of the ensemble bring their signature characters back to life. Nixon has the most to work with after Parker, with a parallel storyline that finds her trying to forgive Steve-- and ultimately herself. But all of the women in the film do a fine job, and they are ably supported by Noth and the other guys (including Mario Cantone and Willie Garson as the gay BFFs to beat). In the end, Sex and the City justifies its existence as more than a cash-in, pleasing the crowd with fun and drama but also touching on the human condition the way the series did in its best moments. Sure, it's a giant hunk of consumer porn (the sheer amount of things, particularly of the couture kind, that are goggled at defies description), and it wraps itself up pretty tidily considering the amount of emotional debris Carrie sifts through in the first two hours. But these are small quibbles for a movie as polished and entertaining as Sex. I'll clink my Cosmo glass with these women any day.

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