After two years as Mrs. Big, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) admits that she’s feeling a bit too “Mr. and Mrs. Married.” Mr. Big (Chris Noth) wants to stay at home with take-out and cuddle while watching black and white movies on the big-screen TV he thought was a wonderful anniversary gift. But Carrie, who apparently wanted to get married because she thought it would be just like dating but better because she wouldn’t have to worry about whether the guy was into her, thinks they should be dressing up (and as we all know, that means DRESSING UP) to go to crowded events featuring red carpets, velvet ropes, and high, high fashion. Big wants to pass on that? Go figure!
That conflict is about as close as we get to a plot in the leisurely 2 1/2 hours of “Sex and the City 2” onslaught of fabulousness. When Carrie tells Big it is hard to keep “sparkle” in their relationship after a while, she is speaking for the highly lucrative franchise as well. Once we left everyone living happily ever after once in the television series and then again in the feature film, how many eggs are we really willing to unscramble to crank it all up again?
Not too much, which leaves us with about 150 minutes that feel more like an infomercial than a story.
The first movie ends with a wedding; the second begins with one. In the television series, Carrie and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) each had the fashion-forward divette’s most indispensable accessory, a gay man to serve as adviser, confidante and acolyte and to provide an endless supply of “you go girl” support and guidance. They hated each other on sight. But fabulousness requires that somehow, off screen, they decided they were in love. And so we begin with a wedding that makes over the top seem under the bottom. When a guest, observing the gay men’s chorus singing show tunes, the swans, and the “snow queen exploded in here” decor asks rhetorically if it could be any gayer, the answer arrives as the officiant turns out to be Liza Minnelli, who throws in a rousing rendition of “Single Ladies” after the vows. With a brief flashback to explain how the fabulous foursome originally met so we can see their 80’s looks (I predicted Miranda’s power suit with gym shoes look but not Samantha’s efforts to channel Lita Ford) the movie hits its high point.
To get the ladies and the story away from the dreariness of post-financial meltdown economic doldrums, the foursome jets off to a luxe week in Abu Dhabi (filmed in Morocco). The burka and camel humor (Charlotte actually falls off a camel) has the sophistication and cultural sensitivity of a Hope and Crosby movie. But there is a brief if awkward nod to global sisterhood and at least the Mideastern characters are played by Mideastern performers. The real fantasy here is not the endless spending power of the ladies or the objectification of the men; it is the way they eat and drink and loll around but still maintain their highly disciplined figures and radiant complexions.
The trip gives them many opportunities to change clothes (they put the “lug” into “luggage”). And it is here where the story veers into Lucy and Ethel territory and the puns get truly painful. Samantha (Kim Cattrall) worries about menopause (the movie makes some very dangerous endorsements of self-administered medications that have been called quackish and even harmful). Charlotte worries about whether her husband will be tempted by the nanny (the gorgeous Alice Eve as “Erin go braless”). Miranda wonders who she is away from her job. And who does Carrie run into on the other side of the world but the one who got away, Aidan (John Corbett).
It starts to get out of control more than once, but it continues to be grounded in what made the series work — the unconditional love and support of the four friends. On the other hand, we never see them providing any support to the men in their lives. Carrie’s insistence on going out is particularly poorly timed because her husband has had a difficult day at the office. She never makes any effort to understand what it means to him to have the market drop 100 points or to express anything but petulance and self-absorption. This movie is a grown-up equivalent of playing with Barbies and Carrie’s ideal man is an 8-year-old’s idea of what a Ken doll boyfriend (with operative ability) should be like. They are forever devoted, out of the way when not wanted, make no demands, look good in formal wear, and give lots of bling. We are supposed to find her endearing, but when she is with Big, she seems like a selfish child. Even the mistake she worries about is all about her, not about him.
And yet, I found myself smiling as I watched more than once. Writer/director Michael Patrick King knows it is not the fashion or the romance we tune in to see but the bond between the women who acknowledge that they are each other’s soul mates. It isn’t the fantasy of glamor and Ken doll boyfriends we respond to. It is the reality of women’s friendships, which we love to see recognized and appreciated.