Tuesday, June 03, 2008

New Yorker trashes "Sex and the City" movie

I'll admit, I'm a little surprised by the panning "Sex and the City" received by The New Yorker. Not because "City" is supposed to be a good movie. My assumption was that all this shopping, drinking, and chatting are ingredients mixed and poured like some kind of Central Park cocktail, eagerly consumed by the critical masses. But Anthony Lane will not be fooled.

Movie reviews are to me a form of high art and writing. Good ones not only acquire the soul of a film, but analyze it on its merits. The best ones offer that and more. They recognize movies as representative of culture at large, and therefore not only critique the film but what the film is saying about its audience. "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" suggests a certain malaise among action-adventure audiences, a group which Hollywood figures will accept just about anything. According to Lane, "Sex and the City: The Movie" points to a disconcerting shallowness in modern society.

"At least, you could argue, Miranda has a job, as a lawyer," reviewer Anthony Lane states. "But the film pays it zero attention, and the other women expect her to drop it and
fly to Mexico without demur. (And she does.)"

And there's more:

Worse still is the sneering cut as the scene shifts from Carrie, carefree and childless in the New York Public Library, to the face of Miranda’s young son, smeared with spaghetti sauce. In short, to anyone facing the quandaries of being a working mother, the movie sends a vicious memo: Don’t be a mother. And don’t work. Is this really where we have ended up—with this superannuated fantasy posing as a slice of modern life?

When I became a father, at 24, I was terrified that I would lose my identity. I knew, not happily, that a lot of changes were going to be forced on me. In order to be a good parent you have to become a little less selfish. No, a lot less. Becoming a father was to be, essentially, the beginning of the end of my life. But, to my wonderment, it was the greatest thing that ever could have happened to me. It forced me to cut the crap and be responsible. It's hard to sweat the small, insignificant things, when a newborn life is in your hands. You really start to understand what matters and what doesn't.

Society would never have you believe this. The answers are not found inside, or in service, but with the acquisition of things, a mate being one of them. Oh, sure, being pregnant is glamorous, but is being a parent? Getting married is a trick, but what about having a good relationship? And how does this fit in with the idea that to be happy you have to serve yourself? Or to surround yourself only with those things that serve you. There's the idea that if you love yourself enough, and reward yourself enough, you will self-actualize. But I've found it all to be just the opposite. When I became a parent the part of me I lost was the part I didn't want anyway. I've never missed it.

On TV, “Sex and the City” was never as insulting as “Desperate Housewives,” which strikes me as catastrophically retrograde, but, almost sixty years after “All About Eve,” which also featured four major female roles, there is a deep sadness in the sight of Carrie and friends defining themselves not as Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm, and Thelma Ritter did—by their talents, their hats, and the swordplay of their wits—but purely by their ability to snare and keep a man. Believe me, ladies, we’re not worth it.

While dating, I've been struck by how many women just want to be in a relationship. Not necessarily a good relationship, just a relationship. All their friends are in one, so it becomes a sort of measuring stick. I have played the role of the boyfriend dragged to weddings so my date wouldn't have to show up alone. Weddings, parties, BBQs--string them all together and you have some kind of relationship, right? You have something to pass the time with. You have something to talk about over cosmos with girlfriends, just like they do on TV! Even if the relationship is void and lifeless, at least there's something to commiserate over. And, better yet, if it is debilitating and insulting, oh my, you can mine that drama for years.

It’s true that Samantha finally disposes of one paramour, but only with a view to landing another, and her parting shot is a beauty: “I love you, but I love me more.” I have a terrible feeling that “Sex and the City” expects us not to disapprove of that line, or even to laugh at it, but to exclaim in unison, “You go, girl.”

The road to self actualization and happiness is paved with many shoes. Certainly there has to be something more out there than this. Certainly, in a relationship, it's not just about what you can get out of it but what you can provide--right? It's about providing a home for someone, literally, maybe, but metaphorically for sure. It's true, no one can make you happy all the time. And if your happiness is stocked on name brands, new thrills, and syncing with what television has propped up as reality, then there's probably nothing anyone can do for you. Who knows, maybe happiness isn't found where Hollywood wants you to look. Maybe it begins at the point where you end.

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