Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

The Beautiful Outfit Is Empty

The contention that the women of Sex and The City 2 are considered too old to be sexually appealing is partly correct. Youth and sex appeal are inextricably linked, no doubt, and the sad phenomenon of mutton dressed as lamb (or L.A.M.B., I guess,) which certainly applies here, appears as the subject of mockery in every culture I can think of. But that isn't the whole story. The real problem isn't that the women of SATC2 are mature; it's that they are not.

We can forgive younger people who worship at the temple of self a little more readily, because they are too young to know any better (though we don't like it much even then, as the recent M.I.A. debacle demonstrated so forcefully.) The young and selfish have still got a reasonable shot at reform, is the thing. But to see a character in her 40s who is still obsessed with herself to the exclusion of nearly all other interests, who refers to herself in the third person, who is still preening and shopping and acquiring and posing, is to see a woman who has failed to grow up. This is a stunted creature.

Consider the marriage at the center of this film, that this Carrie Bradshaw apparently waited so long for and suffered so much to achieve (or really, get, I suppose I should say.) This marriage seems terribly, nightmarishly empty. The film shows us no in-jokes, no intellectual engagement, no discussion of anything but romantic matters and expensive gifts, no wit, no real conversation about work or events of the day or family, even, let alone what might be shared interests like politics or art or music. I could feel only pity for the henpecked husband, Mr. Big, who is at least shown to be capable of thinking for two seconds about anyone besides himself; what he is getting out of the bargain is impossible to determine. What kind of love affair is this? Compare it with the real article, or Jane Austen. A real lover is telling you, look: I have now found the one person who can make sense of this world for me. But that is not the sort of thing we are seeing the slightest scintilla of in SATC2, because nobody in the movie is capable of it.

If it is difficult to believe Carrie B. as a lover, it is outright impossible to believe that she is a writer. It would be hard to imagine a less articulate, perspicacious or observant person than the one depicted here. At one point she's shown reading Nancy Mitford, of all people, who was a decent novelist, but who was also a very childish, self-involved, unhappy woman whose love life was an utter trainwreck. I had to wonder if this might not have been a sly little joke on the part of some bookishly-inclined art director or set designer.

Since these women have not grown or developed intellectually, professionally or in any other way, their characters must be swollen out via the only attribute they've got left: expenditure. They are what they spend. There wasn't a single review I read of this movie that did not mention the $22,000 room rate at their fabulous Abu Dhabi temple-to-conspicuous-consumption. Not one Maybach, but four (symbolic, almost, of how self-obsession has become isolation); not just one swarthy young buck of a concierge to look after them, but four; an enormous table groaning under a Trimalchian feast, for just four slender women who will take only a little fruit. This is self-indulgence taken past vulgarity, past gluttony, past even nausea. These people are like geese being force-fed so their livers can be turned into foie gras. They change their (fantastically hideous) clothes about twenty times a day, because, well because they've just become more and more like they are, to the point where we too must choke on their excess.

As many have taken to pointing out in connection with this movie, there are some mature women who are still in possession of more sex appeal than most people will ever have in their whole lives. It is kind of a sad thing, I've often thought, that this ineffable quality should be so unevenly and capriciously distributed as it is. In any case, obviously, sex appeal is about far more than just the physical. Mature people who are self-aware, not self-obsessed, are powerfully attractive, sexually and in every other way. Men or women. Who have interests and aspirations, who take their professions seriously, who are actively trying to contribute in a way that means something to them. That's why most adults aren't, generally speaking, attracted to the very young. They'd get bored!

As pleasant and delightful as youth and physical beauty are to behold, no adult can spend much time in the company of a beautiful, empty-headed young'un very profitably; no, not even if sex is the only motive; sex alone, even with the loveliest person on earth, will pall very quickly if that's all there is. There are limitless illustrations of this unsurprising fact in the tabloids, in literature, everywhere, recalling the remark once made by a terrible, if typical, Wall Street guy: "Show me the most beautiful woman in the world, and I'll show you a guy who's tired of fucking her." Here is a bogglingly solipsistic, even a nihilistic view, but a common one, and at bottom it is the view that informs the SATC franchise. Money and the consumer products that signify it are the only absolute value, and sex with the best-looking and/or richest person we can find. Everything and everyone is there to be bought, used, consumed. Is that all there is, really? No, it is not. But it's all that an underdeveloped, immature mind will be able to show you.

Maria Bustillos is the author of Dorkismo: The Macho of the Dork and Act Like a Gentleman, Think Like a Woman.

56 Comments / Post A Comment

jaimealyse (#647)

I have not seen the movie and, having seen the first five minutes of SATC #1, don't intend to – though I enjoyed the series a ton. But I've been reading all about it, and find it fascinating. Point: this is my favorite thing I've read about the movie. It makes me a little sad, but it is also very true. High marks.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

I've also read several pieces about this movie, and I have to agree that this is the best. Well done!

It also contained a link to that incredible Cord Jefferson piece that got me weepy at work all over again. God damn if this website isn't an emotional roller coaster.

HiredGoons (#603)

I read the first five pages of SATC1's script when it came by messenger to the post-house I was at. I think we cleaned up some liver spots or bad lighting or something.

*(waves hand dismissively)

Except for one forced-episode involving a sex-swing, that is all the association I have had or ever will have with this Fractured Fairytale.

Nice Rocky & Bullwinkle reference.

Well done, Maria.

A lot of what we think of as "sex appeal" is knowing when to shut the hell up. That is why Catherine Deneuve is so good.

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

Charlotte Rampling too. Jeanne Moreau.
Who else?

irishbreakfast (#4,123)

Hello, Helen Mirren!

Mar (#2,357)

Tilda Swinton, Alberta Watson, Felicity Kendal, Kristen Scott Thomas, Lena Olin, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and–dare I say it?–sometimes Sharon Stone.

HiredGoons (#603)

Daniel Day-Lewis.

Mar (#2,357)

He can cobble my shoes any day.

Also–hate, hate, hate to admit to this, but–Sarah Palin. I despise her politics, but she knows how to work it.

SP does not know how to shut up.

Also: Julie Christie, you bitches! Juuuullleeeeeee!

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

> impossible to believe that she is a writer

I was just daydreaming the various possible worlds in which different NYPress / Observer / Voice columnists from back in the day got the brass ring instead of Bushnell.

(The Musto world was the greatest, obviously. And if it'd been Mugger? Well, isn't it Mugger's world after all.)

deepomega (#1,720)

Magical and true. Also, being amazed by the humanity of people outside of the US – that is also a stupid thing that childpeople do.

C_Webb (#855)

Makes you imagine a sequel in which SATC 2 jumps on The Darjeeling Limited.

I think you've put an unnecessary emphasis on age here. There are young people who aren't selfish or boring, and there are dumb, boring middle-aged and old people.

Abe Sauer (#148)

I saw this movie last weekend with a cinema-full of people in a midsize midwest town (a place where all the 3D movies are shown in 2D) and they all laughed at all the dumb jokes and all seemed to kind of have a good time… the end. They were almost all women (of all ages) and more than anything they just seemed to enjoy the dumbness of it all… a dumb movie that's dumb for women unlike the 200 other movies this summer that are dumb for man-boys with terrible Michael-Bayed jokes for man-boys instead of terrible gay jokes. I suspect just as the fans enjoy the lingo being over the top so do they enjoy the over the top conspicuous consumption. Nobody in the theatre will ever be able to buy any of that stuff and it's extreme expense makes it all the more exciting and funny. Kind of like how guys love to see Desert Eagle handguns in action movies even though they cost $2500 each and are impossibly stupid as functional handguns. This kind of terrible movie making happens almost every weekend somewhere in the box office top 5. I wonder why this one strikes such a nerve? Is it because many (writers especially who ALWAYS hate writers in movies) interpret Sex and the City as a drama when a good deal of its audience interprets it as an absurd comedy? Related: When it comes to dumbness and movies (and the middle east!) truly outrageous is that Hollywood made a Prince of Persia film and instead of getting a passable "Persian" actor, just took an A-list white guy and tanned him up REALLY good a-la "Mexican" Carlton Heston.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Hey! Coincidence. I was in a cinema last weekend in a midsize midwest town too. Only I saw Hot Tub Time Machine.

I wonder whether the people sitting around me got to thinking it might be fun to go to Kodiak Valley.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Funny thing: The theatre uses the poster for SATC2 with just carrie in white and a big "2." No words. This is because they're worried about complaints for a poster with the word "sex." This happened when they showed "Kick Ass" as well. The poster up was just of the Scarlet Mist and his car… no words. So adorable.

HiredGoons (#603)

Can someone explain to me the British accent in Prince of Persia?

libmas (#231)

Lawrence of Arabia!

Abe I don't get the loathing for this either. It's a stoopid moovie which I will see this weekend for almost free as part of a screening series along with Iron Man 2. I hope Iron Man is just as dumb and more louder.

Goons, Most of the other actors were English. Jakie prolly just thought it would blend in better than his LA accent. I loved JSJ's review

irishbreakfast (#4,123)

Didn't Alexander the Great have an English accent too? If so, there's your answer, as POP is set in the same time frame. They all spoke English with a British accent because there wasn't any American accent yet.

I don't think dudes fux with Desert Eagles because they're expensive. The average moviegoer (myself included) has no idea how much any type of gun costs (Right? Or is everybody up on that kind of thing?).

Desert Eagles are loved because they just look badass. Plain and simple.

But I understand what you're trying to say.

HiredGoons (#603)

@kitten: JSJ is a National Treasure.

barnhouse (#1,326)

Hiya. Yes, interesting point … but even the most patently dumbshit OTT comedy can still espouse a worthy, nuanced worldview (cf. Harold and Kumar, for instance, with its message of maturity = balance of personal and worldly imperatives.) That is to say, there's always a worldview in there somewhere, and in this case it is a particularly depraved one.

(Also, what is a Desert Eagle handgun and how come they are not practical? How much is a handgun supposed to cost, even?)

barnhouse (#1,326)

(Oh shoot. That was @Abe Sauer, sorry.)

Abe Sauer (#148)

@ Regional: That's just it. The average sex and the city movie goer also has no idea how much a Mercedes Maybach costs… or can even identify the dangly blue Halston dress Carrie wears… they just think they look bad-ass. In fact, the fashionistas who CAN point out all the dress and show brands are just like the action movie fans that can name the Steyr Aug and the Desert Eagle and the H&K Match etc.
@Barn: I think sex and the city had a worldview for sure. Sure, it was about as subtle as the run of the mill telenovella's and they just crammed it in at the end for the most part (like ALL tent-pole films) but it was there. Sure, there's some depravity there but is it any worse than the sappy Valentine's Day from a few months ago? Avatar was certainly more insulting. The A TEam is coming out in a few weeks; that will certainly leverage its Iraq war veterans core to some preposterous level. As for comedies, Has anyone seen either of the box-office-hit male midlife crisis Travolta vehicles lately? Could;t one say The Hangover celebrated a similar sense of pointless depravity.. except with penises?

bennimaddi (#314)

i think a big reason a lot of people hated the movie so much is because they actually liked the show.

Serenity5 (#5,276)

Wild Hogs, Grown Ups, etc, etc, ad nauseam). I don't understand why SATC is on the receiving end of all this critical hatred when those movies just get ignored. It's not meant to be serious film-making, people!

Lifesart (#5,135)

Good take, Abe. Makes a lot of sense!

SATC1 made me cringe so I won't watch SATC2. But you're quite correct – and I know women who will watch it and love it for what it is – sugary crap that goes down without a thought.

barnhouse (#1,326)

@Abe Well, I'm definitely with you on Avatar. Har. As for The Hangover, I didn't find it a bit depraved, indeed I thought it was rather sweet; us guys who are all friends, through sick and sin.

As for writers in movies, I adore some of 'em. Michael Douglas in The Wonder Boys was so good, I thought. You'll mock me, but I loved Kathleen Turner sobbing as she writes the end of her romance novel in Romancing the Stone. Adaptation is perfect, too. Barton Fink is maybe my favorite of all.

p.s. I love your gun collection!

Abe Sauer (#148)

@barn. well, i used "depraved" as a response the original use. I guess I mean "pointless." And yes, Hangover hit the sweet spot better. I think wild hogs, with its middle age types trying to be young and its homophobia and sappy plotting is a better comparison. Hell, we could even talk about City Slickers when it comes to SATC for men.

You only name the GOOD writer movies! And you remember them because they are so rare.

Finally, that's not a gun collection. THIS is a gun collection:

barnhouse (#1,326)

@Abe Good heavens. I now find I have a strange yen for a Desert Eagle handgun.

hockeymom (#143)

This is a nice companion piece to the earlier Lindy West "appreciation".

Abe Sauer (#148)

"Most of us, however, are hypocrites who enjoy some of the superabundance and glistening choices of modern times, while at the same time worrying about it, and wanting limits to be set." Indeed.

hockeymom (#143)

The view from across the pond…nice!

Wrapitup (#975)

Those would be the fantasy lives of white, middle-class women in the UK and the US. Oops, there goes the sisterhood.

Between the imperialist fantasy of being served hand and foot by hairless, brown, de-racinated and yet exotic glorified slaves who're all too thrilled to wait on their white neo-royal female masters versus blowing up bad guys and saving the world, guess which fantasy is slightly less racist. Oh but don't ask the upper middle class white British lady that. And anyway that review appeared in the Guardian and they're liberal so they're enlightened and shit. My bad.

Oh and P.S: GTA 4 has way more racial diversity in the first 10 minutes of playing it than SATC has in its entire fucking run. But hey, Those Oppressive Men are supposed to be the insensitive ones,right? Not da ladiez with their girl power and all that.

rachelhills (#5,273)

Best review I have read of this film. The issue (and it's an issue that's been around since around the fourth series of the TV show) is that they are adults who act like self-obsessed, emotionally immature high school students. Ironically, as opposed to most teen dramas, which are about high school students who essentially act like adults.

SourCapote (#4,872)

@abe i've got a .50 cal revolver …let's go shootin' !

Abe Sauer (#148)

You don;t really "shoot" anything with that gun you dissolve it.

My backwoods friends would hold that a 12 gauge loaded with deer slug is vastly preferable in terms of expense, accuracy, and dissolving power. In terms of awesomeness, the jury's still out.

SourCapote (#4,872)

voraciously implode and spew fine particles of matter resulting in space time continuum rippage is more like it =0

buzzorhowl (#992)

This was excellent. Thank you.

Kataphraktos (#226)

Ladies, if you want to disprove the notion that most women suck and are not worthy of a good man, strive to achieve something greater than "being fucking Carrie".

KarenUhOh (#19)

It's early yet, but this film looks like the second biggest oil slick of the summer.

katiebakes (#32)

You are such a gorgeous writer.

KarenUhOh (#19)

Yes, let me affirm. This was hot.

barnhouse (#1,326)

Oh golly, and I am such a fan of you both. Wow! Thank you.

MaryHaines (#3,666)

If it is difficult to believe Carrie B. as a lover, it is outright impossible to believe that she is a writer. It would be hard to imagine a less articulate, perspicacious or observant person than the one depicted here.

I have always thought this was true, and yet: Sally Quinn.

Jill England (#5,285)

What is sad to me is not the women of this fictional movie, but the REAL LIFE person who needs to boost their ego by picking them apart. Let me pose this question to you? Do you feel better about yourself now that you have trashed a bunch of women that never even existed? It's a movie! It is light, fun and a little silly. Also I find your observations on these women to be very flat, one sided and closed minded. There is more to the characters of SATC2 than meets the eye.

… wait, they're Transformers?

vespavirgin (#1,422)

The issue with SATC is this: these women are being presented as something to _aspire_ to. They can bring home the bacon, fry it up etc. They have oodles of cash and eat and drink all day and still are skinny. The men in The Hangover are not ideals. The viewer is not supposed to _be_ them. Usually in satires and comedies of this sort there is one person for the viewer to ID with, i.e. Lisa in The Simpsons, Hurley in Lost (oh, wait, not supposed to be a comedy. Anyway!). There are no reasonable characters in SATC, they are not feminist or post-feminist, they're just horrible people in pointy shoes.

Nice article, Ms. B!

cinetrix (#47)

"That's why most adults aren't, generally speaking, attracted to the very young. They'd get bored!"
@barnhouse Thank you for the most succinct phrasing ever of the reason why one can teach college students all day yet not want to get involved with any of them.

Bittersweet (#765)

Beautiful piece, Maria. Just one tiny nit to pick. You say: A real lover is telling you, look: I have now found the one person who can make sense of this world for me.

I'd argue that it's the one person who can make sense of this world with you.

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