Saturday, 31 May 2008
Sex and the City
A refreshingly grown-up take on love and relationships which, while not quite at home on the cinema screen, is much better than most Hollywood rom-coms.
Last week’s return of Indiana Jones was a momentous occasion for me, a movie event I’d been waiting many years to see realised, and one which when it finally came brought equal amounts of pleasure and disappointment. It didn’t escape my attention that the arrival of Carrie Bradshaw et al on the big screen was an equally anticipated event, albeit by a different, and perhaps even more demanding, audience.
But this time I was in a rather different position. Having never seen an episode of the smash hit TV series, I approached this movie as just another of 2008’s slate of summer blockbusters, while also wondering if my unfamiliarity with the show would make its near two and a half hours a pretty redundant experience. Happily, the film was most welcoming to a Sex and the City virgin; an opening montage featuring some thumbnail sketches of the characters and a quick blast through six series’ worth of feelings, frocks and that other f-word did a fine job of bringing me up to speed.
Initially the story centres on Carrie’s impending wedding to John James Preston - more commonly known as Mr Big – but as events unfold SATC’s focus expands. While this firstly feels like a mis-step, it ultimately makes for a better film. After a first hour that deftly balances character stuff, fashion stuff and fun stuff – including several trying-on-outfits scenes that show 27 Dresses how it should really be done - the film comes to something of a standstill as the girls hightail it to Mexico. While the change of situation allows for some fine comedy moments, the attempts at more serious reflection fall flat, and it’s a relief when they finally get back to New York and things get interesting again. It's here that the film settles into four distinct story strands, each eventually heading to satisfying and not-wholly-predictable conclusions.
Despite its title, the film isn’t really about sex. There’s still a fair amount of bedroom action in it, but each narrative strand is actually more focused on the pleasures, struggles and challenges of trying to make a long-term grown-up relationship work. Writer/director Michael Patrick King’s great achievement is to tackle this theme in a mature and complex way (particularly in the Carrie/Big and Miranda/Steve threads) without ever losing sight of the need to also be funny and entertaining. In this respect SATC sits head and shoulders above countless empty-headed romantic comedies, and it is a unique pleasure indeed to enjoy a summer event movie for the quality of its writing, complemented by a cast who really know their characters inside-out.
The flipside of this is that the material is not particularly cinematic, and King does nothing to pull the show out of its small-screen roots; only a handful of shots really benefit from big-screen projection, and for the most part this would work just as well as a one-off TV special. Also unsatisfying is an occasional reliance on unconvincing plot turns in order to get the characters into particular situations. Most frustratingly, the key moment of the story centres around a missed phone call, which feels too much like an easy get-out for the writer.
But these are not major complaints, and overall Sex and the City is an unexpected pleasure, offering warm humour, excellent performances and a little insight. Judged against any recent film of its type, it proves that the movies could really learn something about good writing and believable storytelling from the ‘lesser’ world of television.
Writer/director: Michael Patrick King
Cast: Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Catrall, Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis, Jennifer Hudson
UK release: 28 May