*In the Company of Women

I have to admit that I took myself off to see Sex and the City 2 at the weekend, having done exactly the same thing in the case of the first Sex and the City movie two years ago. I did this even though – which is what I find most astounding about all this – I barely ever watched the television show. This lack of investment in the franchise on my part, though, is perhaps precisely why I was rather looking forward to this outing and why, I also have to admit, I found that the time I spent watching the original Sex and the City movie passed amiably enough.

On this occasion, I’d expected the cinema to be packed with groups of females in fours, strangely overdressed to spend a couple of hours in the dark, as I recall having been the case back in 2008, but the place was, in fact, only about half-full. The patrons included, aside from Bronski Beat-ish groupings of males, one young fellow who had a grim expression and a girlfriend screechily telling him they had to sit closer to the screen, but who did at least also have a compensatory bucket of popcorn as big as the wheat silo from which Charlie Cousens fell to his death in Bellbird. Also present were groups of teenage girls, which I found to be the most bizarre element in the makeup of the audience; surely the dolls in Sex and the City 2 must have seemed as young and vital to them as Bea Arthur and the rest of the Golden Girls gang did to me in 1985.

And, yes, Sex and the City 2 itself certainly was awful. Suffice to say, not an enormous amount happens to Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda over the course of its lengthy running time, which I wouldn’t have given the remotest damn about had the whole thing just been a bit more pleasurable to look at. Sex and the City 2 isn’t precisely a romantic comedy, given that it doesn’t centre around two individuals, one of whom has to get to the airport, or secure a taxi on New Year’s Eve, in order to tell the other that they love them and/or propose marriage while total strangers break into applause, but I expected it to have a romantic comedy ethos. That is, that at least the actors would be looking their best and doing their gallivanting in appealing surrounds. (There are exceptions to the romantic-comedy rules, I admit, such as recent Australian example of the genre I Love You Too, in which Melbourne most closely resembles Berlin before the wall came down.)

Sex and the City 2, on the other hand, is actually extremely hard to look at. Thanks to the hideousness of the clothes these women have to wear and, I imagine, a surfeit of ‘Hot Yoga’, or some such exercise fad, I found watching the female leads walking and talking to be as unappealing as gazing upon gristle swathed in Crunchie Bar wrappings, or at Wayland Flowers’ puppet creation ‘Madame’ when she used to make her unwelcome appearances on Solid Gold. As well, script-wise, Sex and the City 2 is essentially a collection of shockingly poor one-liners. Sample: on the plane to Abu Dhabi, the women are offered dates to snack on. Samantha replies that she’s not even in the Middle East yet and already she has a date. Such horrendous quips are, however, perpetually greeted with head shaking and chuckling from the other members of the cast, reminiscent of the way Erik Estrada in ChiPs used to react to the mention of heading off someplace where girls in bikinis were likely to be present.

But enough about the movie; everyone knows by now that it’s bad. It’s the belovedness of the Sex and the City television program that makes audiences shell out cash to put up with what I’ve mentioned above. Now, while I would have expected that I’d have been glued to the show back in the day, if only because there’s nothing I like more than watching the well-heeled wrestle with their tangled love lives, something about Sex and the City always just irritated the bejesus out of me. (And this is coming from someone who used to make time to watch its clones Cashmere Mafia and Lipstick Jungle, and not merely to see how Andrew McCarthy was ageing.) The thing is, though, that I’ve never really found common ground with other people who don’t much care for SATC. That is, its characters routinely get a pasting for being superficial, materialistic and obsessed with their own petty concerns, but all that is certainly no problem as far as I’m concerned.

What actually used to make me tense about Sex and the City are the things for which it’s applauded. For instance, while I’m all for frankness, I could never relate to the concept of having a good old chinwag with one’s friends about the details of one’s sexual life. It’s simply not my experience that anyone who’s attained their majority would discuss the nuts and bolts of their personal congress with anyone who isn’t a medical professional of some kind. Having said that, though, if people want to do this, fine. The thing that, in point of fact, ate away at my nerves the most with Sex and the City was its ‘celebration of female friendship’ angle.

I’ve got to be honest, I’ve never understood why it should be any kind of talking point that women have friends who happen also to be women. I can’t grasp why female friendship is supposed to be such a singular form of connection that it has to be talked up, as though it’s a cultural practice belonging to a racial group on the verge of extinction. In my experience as a woman – who, like probably every other woman walking the earth, has friends who are women too – friendships with others of our kind have exactly the same prospect of permanence, and offer the same amount of aggravation, as well as lapses in loyalty and emotional support, as any other kind of friendship that one human being has with another.

In Sex and the City 2, though, before (or perhaps after, I can’t honestly remember) the group’s vomiting-basin-producing karaoke rendition of ‘I Am Woman’, Samantha makes the mandatory speech about nothing coming between the four of them, whether it be babies, husbands, and so on. Now, while this is admirable in a way, should it really be the case for grown women that their friends invariably rank more highly with them than do their ‘significant others’? If Sex and the City 2 were a film about men, it would culminate in the chief man finally pulling away from his loutish best friend to tell some woman that he loves her and, therefore, start life as a ‘grown-up’ (see, again, I Love You Too; or, of course, Rob Lowe in the eternally watchable About Last Night).

The bottom line for me with Sex and the City, in all its phases, is that I’m not sure it’s actually the ideal situation that, even though you have a – I apologise in advance for using this ickiest of words – ‘partner’, the people you talk to most honestly are your friends. In fact, this sounds too reminiscent of the horror of being a teenager for my liking, an impression not lessened by Sarah Jessica Parker incessantly referring to the other middle-aged women at the centre of the action (such as it is) as ‘the girls’. And, I’ll tell you this much (SPOILER ALERT!), if a friend of mine made me nearly miss a flight because she was dimwitted enough to have left her passport at an inconveniently located market stall, I would, rather than demonstrating tender solidarity, be bashing her over the head with her clutch bag.

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