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Sex You Up 

What a plethora of developments we get as writer/director Michael Patrick King moves Sex and the City from television to the big screen. When we left our four clothes-mad friends at the end of their series, two had husbands and two had regular fellas; one had a child and one was hoping. Mix things up, and here's what happens. Somebody cheats, and somebody decides to separate. Somebody has a baby. Somebody gets married, and somebody gets jilted. Somebody new even shows up, just like the others, looking for love and a state-of-the-moment handbag. In short, almost everything changes except for the fact that everything actually remains the same. If you liked it on TV, you'll like it in the theater, and if you didn't, you won't. Based on the characters in Candace Bushnell's book of the same name, Sex and the City ran for 94 episodes on HBO between 1998 and 2004 and has been in basic-cable syndication since that time, with much of its distinctive edge edited away. The series focused on newspaper columnist Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) and her three best friends: prosperous advertising executive Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall), driven lawyer Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon) and dreamy art curator Charlotte York (Kristin Davis). It was important to the TV program that the women all be successful professionals; the TV scripts infrequently addressed issues of women in the workplace, but our four heroines' careers accounted for how they could afford apartments in Manhattan and have money left over for pairs of $500 shoes. The movie barely notices the women's work lives.

Each of the women represents a particular personality type. Carrie is modern, sensible about things other than clothes and accessories, and reflective, although mostly about issues of sex and the single girl. Charlotte is idealistic, traditional and romantic. Miranda is serious but self-doubting, successful but not satisfied. And Samantha is outrageous, a sexually voracious sybarite. The friends' differences in experience and outlook, mixed with their utter candor when together, provided the series its hook. These women would talk about anything. And much of what they talked about were things we'd not heard discussed so openly and graphically before. We tuned in to each new episode, in part, just to see what they'd say to each other next. The great majority of the show's defining frankness has been deleted from its run in syndication, and little of it reemerges in the film.

Thus the movie of Sex and the City, unwilling to revisit its open commentary on contemporary sexual practices and cultural mores, settles for a next-step look at the four main characters' romantic situations, or for three of the four, anyway; King wasn't able to think up much of anything for Charlotte's character to do, other than to humiliate her with an excretory accident. The other three, though, are put through the relationship meat grinder. When Miranda's husband Steve (David Eigenberg) admits an infidelity, she instantly begins planning to divorce. Some context is provided in the libido diminution that often accompanies the rigors of parenting young children, particularly among two-career couples. Nonetheless, King's script provides no background for Steve's decision to reveal an indiscretion that otherwise would not have come to light. Samantha, meanwhile, runs into a comparable problem. Her boytoy lover Smith Jerrod (Jason Lewis) is just too busy with his acting career to meet her sexual needs. And lots of time on her own has started Samantha wondering whether her devotion to Smith has been purchased at the price of her lifelong independence — to which we all say, "Duh!"

The main narrative thread, though, concerns Carrie's relationship with on-again, off-again boyfriend Mr. Big, aka John James Preston (Chris Noth). They are on again, but when Carrie attends a jewelry auction, she begins to wonder what might happen if she moved in with Big (as they are planning), only to have him dump her. To leverage some relationship equity for herself, she convinces Big to marry her (he's not at all hesitant). And thus begin escalating plans for a city-stopping wedding, a parade of white gowns and plot twists that are patently ridiculous. Somewhere in there Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson shows up as Louise from St. Louis to take a job as Carrie's assistant and, presumably, provide women of color someone with whom to identify.

In sum, Sex and the City doesn't much work on the level of story. It's predictable and unconvincing. But King has devised an adequate number of laugh lines, and darned if his themes about friendship and forgiveness aren't pitch-perfect, whatever the weakness of the underlying narrative. In the end, the picture is less than I'd hoped for, but in important ways, more than I expected.

click to enlarge Life's an eternal cocktail hour for Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) in Sex and the City.
  • Life's an eternal cocktail hour for Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) in Sex and the City.
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