Pop Talk: Sex and the City 2 (a cautionary tale of cocktails and tulle)
Possibly the most-analysed and collectively panned film of the year, I went into a screening of Sex and the City with an open mind. My biggest fear coming out of the cinema? That the loose ends imply a third film might be on the cards.
Okay, to say I had no preconceptions would be a lie: I genuinely wanted to be able to say, "It's a bit of frivolous fun – so quit with the feminist contextualising and Take A Chill Pill". But I can't. Because the film has attempted to make statements about the modern female condition that are as outdated and cliched as the 1980s ensembles in the opening scenes.
I cringed from start to finish (spoiler alert!). But it wasn't just Liza Minnelli performing "Single Ladies", Samantha's relentless crass innuendo, Charlotte's hot nanny with nipples on top or the sartorial, sexual and cultural atrocities committed in Abu Dhabi that induced my wincing. It was the embarrassing and sad realisation that Carrie had once been an aspirational role model of mine. And the scary thought that young women (or, indeed, older ones!) still might find value in modelling themselves on the show's precepts.
'Tis true, I was once a Sex and the City advocate and a card-carrying Carrie girl. I was studying at university when the show first aired on Australian TV and tuned into Channel Nine at 9.30pm every Monday night to watch it (though the episode screenings were about two years behind the rest of the world!). I didn't subscribe to the girls' fragrantly promiscuous lifestyles, nor their frequent use of the f-word, but I did covet their wardrobes and their kinship and their careers.
I know I'm not the only aspiring writer to have looked at Carrie Bradshaw as a fictional heroine, despite knowing full well that a designer wardrobe on a freelance writer's budget is about as achievable as Sarah Jessica Parker's impossibly slim physique (her influence in the body-image department is a whole other post) and that scoring a by-line in Vogue is equally as challenging (aspiring freelance writers might do well to emulate Aussie journo Rachel Hills, who has had an actual Vogue by-line, or former Vogue fashion features director Clare Press).
While I may have identified more with the earnest college student who accosted Carrie in the Hamptons and offered to do her "wash" in exchange for time with her column-writing mentor, the show's permissive consumerism influenced my shopping habits, its styling my clothing choices and its snappy dialogue my writer's voice. I might have even affected a few Carrie-esque mannerisms (the eyebrow raise, anyone?). Cringe.
S&TC was like a glossy magazine brought to life – all fashion, men, sex, relationships and catchy coverlines in the form of one-liners. Coupled with my devotion to the glossies, it gave me permission to shop with abandon. Carrie may have joked, "I like my money right where I can see it... hanging in my closet", but I don't recall her ever really struggling to get by on her last 20 bucks. She always looked amazing. Even when stumbling about drunk... with a cigarette hanging from her mouth.
When I watch the TV series on DVD now, I can't quite believe that I bought in. Yes, the scripts were well written. Yes, they addressed women's issues that were previously taboo on commercial TV. And, yes, the girls taught us about the importance of a close circle of girlfriends. But the values of sexual permissiveness, rampant consumerism, appearance-based narcissism and cocktail-swilling – and the lack of a grounding sense of family or faith – render it an anachronism, at least in my mind.
In the film sequel, we find Carrie discontent to play out her married life to Big on the couch, grasping to hold onto her former glamorous single life, throwing a tantrum over a scathing review in her beloved New Yorker, contemplating the purchase of a new piece of furniture for the corner, writing on relationships for Vogue, playing kissies with Aiden and averting the idea of having children. She still knows how to crack a witty one-liner, but, like Samantha in menopause denial, she's suffering a severe case of arrested development.
Some of the issues (albeit cliched) resonate – the small comforts of married life (which she sees as banality); viewing yourself through the prism of career success (for her, glowing book reviews); and maintaining female friendships – but Carrie's overwhelming sense of entitlement, further enhanced by Big and Aiden's appraisals ("you're different from other girls") and her reaction to Big's anniversary gift ("jewellery would have been nice") just makes her seem immature, like a 40-year-old trapped in the body and mind of a 20-year-old.
Perhaps one day Carrie will leave her girlhood behind and grow up (and what is the definition of a grown-up, anyway?). Or maybe she is representative of a sort of Peter Pan syndrome affecting women who refuse to let go of fashion, jobs, dreams, youthful skin and bodies – anything they have worked for and have given them a sense of self – and settle for a different kind of contentment.
Until then, Sex and the City 2 serves as more cautionary tale than fairytale, about a little girl lost in big girl's shoes, between the streets of New York and markets of Abu Dhabi, still wearing a tulle tutu.
Hating On Sex and the City is Soooo 2006 by Rachel Hills
The Death of Sex and the City by Hadley Freeman
Girl With a Satchel