Every Decade Gets Their Very Own “Ishtar”

Katherine Rust at The Atlantic:

Is there anything redeemably good about SATC2? Apparently not.

A sampling of the critics’ sharpest snipes:

  • Kyle Smith at the New York Post: “As tasteless as an Arabian cathouse, as worn-out as your 1998 flip-flops and as hideous as the mom jeans Carrie wears with a belly-baring gingham top, ‘Sex and the City 2’ is two of the worst movies of the year.”
  • A.O. Scott at The New York Times: “The sequel — which should have borrowed a subtitle from another picture opening this week and called itself “Sex and the City: The Sands of Time” — begins with a wedding and never seems to end. Your watch will tell you that a shade less than two and a half hours have elapsed, but you may be shocked at just how much older you feel when the whole thing is over.”
  • Andrew O’Heir at Salon: “When Carrie asks Big, ‘Am I just a bitch wife who nags you?’ I could hear all the straight men in the theater — all four of us — being physically prevented from responding.”
  • Roger Ebert at the Chicago Sun-Times: “I wondered briefly whether Abu Dhabi had underwritten all this product placement, but I learn the ‘SATC2’ was filmed in Morocco, which must be Morocco’s little joke. That nation supplies magnificent desert scenes, achieved with CGI, I assume, during which two of the girls fall off a camel. I haven’t seen such hilarity since ‘Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion.'”
  • Kurt Loder at MTV News: “The writing, which was one of the glories of the TV series, sharp and pungent, is here abysmally juvenile.”
  • Richard Roeper at Richard Roeper & The Movies: “For about an hour we get a lot of domestic handwringing and bad puns and fashion porn and then out of nowhere a sheik offers to pay for all four women to go on an insanely expensive trip…to abu dhabi. This is where the movie goes from boring to lame and cartoonishly offensive and just ridiculous.”
  • Michael Phillips at the Chicago Tribune: “Why have these women, photographed drearily and insanely costumed, become full-on drag queens?”
  • Ella Taylor at the Village Voice: “But it’s one thing to create a group of BFFs who have become, in their way, post-millennium pop female icons as beloved as Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern were in the late 1970s. It’s quite another to drag them well into middle age, dress them like mutton passing as lamb, and lumber them with female troubles culled straight from the mommy or single lady blogs.”
  • Keith Ulrich at Time Out New York: “Watching (Liza Minelli)that queerest of queer icons risk her umpteenth hip replacement by performing Beyoncé’s ‘Single Ladies’ (dance moves and all!) is as suspenseful as a Hitchcock set piece, and a difficult act to top. So writer-director Michael Patrick King doesn’t even try.”
  • Claudie Puig at USA Today: “With his Cosmopolitan-style approach to all things feminine, director Michael Patrick King is out of his league attempting to comment on the inequitable treatment of Muslim women. He ends up mocking religious beliefs and making Carrie and her friends appear insensitive. This new mantle sits more awkwardly than a threadbare boa on their shoulders.”

Dana Stevens in Slate:

Two years after her marriage to her long-elusive dream guy, Mr. Big (Chris Noth), Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) is ensconced in a palatial Fifth Avenue apartment (she also keeps her old place across town as a seldom-used pied-à-terre, the first sign that this movie is economically off its rocker). But the compromises of conjugal life nag at her: Why won’t he get off the couch and come out to glamorous events with her anymore? Is the best anniversary gift he can think of really a second TV? Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is content with her husband and son in Brooklyn but miserable at her corporate law job. Charlotte, a stay-at-home mother of two, is quietly going nuts and beginning to harbor suspicions about the intentions of her buxom Irish nanny. Samantha (Kim Cattrall), having sworn off monogamy forever, is still pursuing erotic bliss via random hookups and eternal youth via hormonal supplements.

In an opening set piece, Carrie’s best gay friend, Stanford (Willie Garson), marries Charlotte’s best gay friend, Anthony (Mario Cantone), in a wedding so over-the-top it appears to have been production-designed by Van Nest Polglase. Though it lacks any real laughs, this sequence bodes a better movie than the one that eventually follows. Liza Minnelli pops up to deliver a campy reperformance of the choreography from Beyonce’s “All the Single Ladies,” and one of the grooms raises a question that represents the movie’s path not taken. Making the rounds at the reception, the loudmouthed Anthony boasts to his scandalized straight friends that he’s been given permission by his husband-to-be to cheat under certain circumstances. But the issue of Anthony and Stanford’s fidelity policy is never revisited—indeed, they’re barely seen again—and the heterosexual model of monogamy, with its accompanying triangulation and handwringing, is the one that drearily prevails.

For the first hour or so, the movie meanders around New York, moping. The egregious awfulness doesn’t kick in until Samantha, a PR flack, gets invited on an all-expenses-paid junket to Abu Dhabi by a sheik who wants her to represent his luxury hotel. For a good 20 minutes, the plot comes to a complete stop as the girls ooh and aah over first-class plane cabins, hotel grounds of Versailles-like proportions, and dusky manservants. This section resembles nothing so much as one of those glossy 20-page “advertorials” that sometimes appear in the Sunday Times magazine, touting the cosmopolitan lifestyle and business-friendly tax policies of some Middle Eastern nation or other. In a movie that’s chockablock with product placement (Rolex, Dior, Maybach), the Abu Dhabi scenes feel like an extended plug for an entire country (though it’s not clear which one, since the actual location shooting was done in Morocco). Eventually something besides the admiration of commodities does take place in Abu Dhabi, but let’s just say the stakes are so low that, during the girls’ final madcap sprint through an outdoor market disguised in burqas, the unspeakable outcome they’re trying to forestall is the possibility of having to fly home in coach.

Matt Zoller Seitz at IFC:

Stung, perhaps, by complaints that the first “Sex” film was aggressively insensitive to American financial hardship circa 2008, the sequel peppers its dialogue with references to financial struggle. But from my perspective (and a lot of people’s, I’d wager) they’re “struggles” on par with trying to find a parking spot on a busy avenue during lunch hour.

Carrie tried to sell her amazing bachelorette pad, but she couldn’t find a buyer, so she had to keep it (and it comes in handy when she decides she needs to escape Big’s passive-aggressive homebody sourness). We also learn that Carrie and Big traded their penthouse apartment for a seemingly identical-sized place a few floors lower in the same building. The horror!

The movie’s privileged cluelessness reaches an early zenith when Miranda impulsively quits her cushy job at a law firm because her boss is sexist, and springs the decision on her husband (David Eigenberg) during her son’s grade school recital. “Good for you, honey!” he exclaims. “I’ll get another job, a better job!” she assures him. “I already called the headhunter.” They should have ended the scene by having a giant bag of money fall out of the sky and land at her feet.

Very rarely, if ever, do the characters, much less the filmmaker, suggest that they’re all living in a bubble — which is something that even the most wealth-obsessed escapist comedies produced during the Depression somehow managed to do with regularity, as a means of preserving their implicit agreement not to take the masses’ hard-earned money and slap them across the face with it.

[…]

At the same time, though, much like “Transformers 2” (hmmm, “Sex” director Michael Patrick King as the gay camp version of Michael Bay — or is that a redundancy?), “Sex and the City 2” is more than harmless escapism. It’s an accidental candid snapshot of the sick, dying heart of America, a film so pleased with its vacuous, trashy, art-free extravagance that its poster should be taped to the dingy walls of terrorist sleeper agents worldwide. More depressing and alarming than the movies themselves is the notion that a certain culture, a certain mindset, birthed it, without a pang of remorse or even apparent self-awareness, much less self-criticism. Ladies and gentlemen, this is why they hate us.

Wajahat Ali at Salon:

Michael Patrick King’s exquisitely tone-deaf movie is cinematic Viagra for Western cultural imperialists who still ignorantly and inaccurately paint the entire Middle East (and Iran) as a Shangri La in desperate need of liberation from ignorant, backward natives. Historian Bernard Lewis, the 93-year-old Hall of Fame Orientalist and author of such nuanced gems as “The Arabs in History” and “Islam and the West,” would probably die of priapism if he saw this movie. It’s like the cinematic progeny of “Not Without My Daughter” and “Arabian Nights” with a makeover by Valentino. Forget the oppressed women of Abu Dhabi. Let’s buy more bling for the burqa!

Our four female cultural avatars, like imperialistic Barbies, milk Abu Dhabi for leisure and hedonism without making any discernible, concrete efforts to learn about her people and their daily lives. An exception is Miranda, whose IQ drops about 100 points as she dilutes the vast complexities of a diverse culture into sound bites like this: “‘Hanh Gee’ means ‘yes’ in Arabic!”

Only it doesn’t — it’s Hindi and Punjabi, which is spoken by South Asians.

She also incorrectly tells the audience that all women in the Middle East have to cover themselves. And, yes, nearly every single Middle Eastern female character in “SATC 2’s” imaginative rendition of “Abu Dhabi,” is veiled, silent or subdued by aggressive men.

Like curious visitors staring at an exotic animal in the zoo with equal doses of horror and fascination, the four “girls” observe a niqabi female eating French fries by carefully lifting her veil for each consumed fry. After witnessing this “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” event, Samantha declares, “It’s like they don’t want [women] to have a voice.”

If our cultural ambassadors truly cared about saving Muslim women, they surely would try to help them during the film’s interminable two and half hour running time, no? Sadly, instead, these incredibly shallow mock-feminists can’t even bother to have one decent conversation with a Muslim woman, because they’re too immersed in picnics on the desert and singing Arab disco karaoke renditions of “I Am Woman.” In fact, Abu Dhabi is just peachy when it’s a fantasy land where they ride around in limos and get comped an extravagantly vulgar $22,000 hotel suite. However, only when that materialism is taken away do they worry, in only the most superficial way, about sexual hypocrisy and women’s oppression.

Meanwhile, the perpetually self-absorbed Carrie finds enlightenment in the simple, wise words of her Indian manservant Gaurav, who functions as the movie’s life-changing, magical minority. And Samantha, our “Western” avatar of freedom and liberation, offers a juxtaposition to the silent, oppressed Muslim women by making immature puns like “Lawrence of my Labia” and performing fellatio on a sheesha pipe in public.

The movie uses only two broad colors to paint the Middle East: One depicting an opulent Eden for our blissfully ignorant protagonists to selfishly use as a temporary escape, and the other showing an oppressive dungeon populated by intolerant men that cannot comprehend cleavage or bare shoulders.

Consider the film’s painful climax, in which Samantha, now wearing shorts and a low-cut top, spills dozens of condoms from her purse in the middle of a crowded market. Right before the condom explosion, the Islamic call to prayer, the Adhan, is conveniently heard for no discernible reason. The angry, hairy men, overwhelmed by anger and shock, decide to abandon their daily activities and busy life to encircle Samantha and condemn her as a harlot and slut, but not before Samantha proudly holds the condoms up high and dry humps the air telling the men she uses them to have sex. Because they cannot tolerate a sassy, back-talking, condom-using female baring her legs, they decide en masse to spontaneously chase all four women. Appearing like an oasis in the desert, two mysterious women in a burqa silently nod to the four girls, who subsequently follow the women into a secret room revealing the existence of a secret book club attended by a dozen niqabi women, who disrobe to reveal their hidden designer clothes, fashionable shoes and makeup.

Melissa Silverstein at Huffington Post:

I actually really liked the film. I’m not going to tell you that it is not over the top. It is and then some. At times it borders on camp. But then so does Glee and I love that too.

I knew what I was getting into so I went along with the ride.

I write on this blog a lot about how I want to see real women onscreen. Now I’m not going to pretend the four rich white women in NY whose shoe and clothing budgets could feed a small country have anything to do with my everyday life. They don’t. I don’t even like the clothes (which felt too much this time) and I couldn’t walk even two steps in any of those shoes.

But that’s missing the point. Underneath those frocks each woman is a composite of the real women in this country and the issues that we all deal with in our everyday lives.

Like Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) who worked her way up the legal ladder who has a new boss who literally puts his hand in her face and silences her when she is speaking in a meeting and thinks it’s ok. Like Charlotte (Kristin Davis) who spent the entire series pining for a family and that family has turned out to be a nightmare of non stop crying. Like Samantha (Kim Cattrall) doing everything she can to stave off aging. And like Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) who is trying to figure out how to navigate marriage — and not having kids — in a world where having kids is just the norm.

I have to say I was very nervous about the whole middle east part of the movie from the trailer. I just didn’t get it. But what writer/director Michael Patrick King does is plop these four liberated women in the supposed “new” middle east, and what they discover very quickly is that there is nothing new about it when it comes to women. The storyline in the middle east is mostly Samantha’s and it shows how a woman who has embraced her sexuality and freedom in the west is shamed for wanting that same liberation in the middle east. Samantha actually gets detained for kissing a hot Danish businessman on the beach and while she is humiliated and loses her business opportunity all the while suffering from hot flashes in 90 degree heat, we see no consequences for the man she was kissing.

The movie brought to mind some issues I have been thinking about lately. Why is it that gay men have become the purveyors of women’s stories? Is there something more comfortable about a gay man telling women’s stories than women doing it ourselves? Is it easier for Hollywood executives to write the check to a man for an obscene amount of money that they would never do for a woman? It made me think about Mamma Mia, a movie written and directed by women. That movie has made over a half a billion worldwide. We know there are tons of Abba songs out there, yet no noise about a sequel. Just makes me wonder.

John Nolte at Big Hollywood:

For his single moment of righteous cinematic protest, director King now finds himself under fire from, among others, the USA Today for “mocking religious beliefs” and  The Hollywood Reporter for being “blatantly anti-Muslim,” even though the rest of the film goes out of its way to treat the Arab world with a dignity few American Southerners receive at the hands of our Tinseltown betters these days.  For starters, and most importantly, each and every Middle Eastern character – male and female — is given their humanity. Furthermore, at one point Carrie wears a star and crescent necklace. At another point she says “Thank God” to an Arab merchant and then sweetly corrects herself with “I mean, thank Allah.”

This attack on King is nothing more than a smear job, and yet another example of the entertainment media’s unholy agenda to punish and make an example of those who dare stray from Hollywood’s PC liberal orthodoxy.  Would anyone like to bet more than a nickel that had King used Mormons instead of Muslims all the criticism about his being “anti-Muslim” would’ve been replaced with phrases like, “brave,” “bold,” “courageous” and “cutting edge”?  I didn’t think so.

Another criticism is that the main characters wallow in shallow, crass materialism. That’s fair enough, but only half true, and as far as the other half goes, so what? We are talking about a fairy tale here. The whole idea is to live vicariously as our foursome enjoys charmed lives filled with luxurious $22,000-a-night suites, massive wardrobes, and girlish squealing over ugly shoes and gaudy jewelry. But like Cinderella’s castle this is nothing more than silly, wish-fulfilling eye candy for a story with a surprisingly traditional message.

After two years of marriage, Carrie and Big (Chris Noth) are starting to feel the cracks. She’s either nudging or outright badgering him to play dress up and hit the fancy restaurants when all he wants is to put his feet on the couch, hold her close, and watch an old movie. She whines and mopes and cajoles and bitches about his lack of “sparkle.” He bristles and suggests they take a two day vacation from each other each week. Until the final moments, the story keeps you guessing as to how this dilemma will resolve itself. Because this will be the answer to what the film is about.

What “Sex and the City 2” is about is Carrie growing-the-hell-up and coming to realize that when a marriage is firing on all cylinders it’s the simple things like take-out food and an old movie that matter most. In other words, the clothes and jewelry are fun but ultimately mean nothing if you can’t appreciate what costs the least. There’s also a final touch about the importance of fidelity and traditional diamond wedding rings that I won’t spoil. You’re welcome.

Don’t get me wrong, the film is far from perfect. At 143 minutes, it’s longish in more than a few spots and there are some off-key, cringe-worthy moments like a contrived karaoke “I Am Woman” musical number with its heart in the right place that still should’ve been cut. The story also opens rather clumsily with an overlong same-sex marriage sequence so over-the-top gay Liza Minelli makes an appearance. (For the record, anyone with the guts to take on Islamists and their apologists in the media can flack for gay marriage all he wants.)

UPDATE: Choire Sicha at The Daily Beast

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One response to “Every Decade Gets Their Very Own “Ishtar”

  1. Pingback: What We’ve Built Today « Around The Sphere

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