For the first time in many months, I ventured to a multiplex for a new mainstream release, the film version of HBO's Sex and the City. I enjoyed the series well enough, although less so as it progressed (early on there was something liberating about the show's frankness). I didn't have great expectations heading in, but figured of all the major summer releases, I would probably find this one more interesting than the others. Here are some thoughts:
- I found the film mildly entertaining, although much less funny than the series, especially the earlier episodes. It is heavy on melodrama, some of which is effective because of the performances. The writing is much flatter than the series as well. I wasn't bored, and not actively annoyed either. Given my low expectations of contemporary Hollywood, not bad.
- Aesthetically, the transition to the big screen did not change the style much. There were moments of bombast, especially the opening and closing, but generally it was TV functional cutting of the intensified continuity variety. King's background as a TV director does not differentiate him positively or negatively, since the televisual style has taken over mainstream filmmaking over the past couple of decades. There was a New Year's Eve montage through the snow that I thought was well-handled because it wasn't overblown.
- Narratively, the first hour was quite cinematic in adhering to the 3 act structure: 1st act (1/4 of film) (set-up); 2nd Act (1/2 of film) (rising drama); 3rd Act (1/4) (denouement). There is a major turning point an hour in, which is typical of Hollywood narrative. But then the film does begin to feel like a television narrative and is very loose for its last near hour and a half. This isn't inherently a flaw, but it does seem like it is neither tight and economical nor relaxed and character-driven, since the episodes and drama are very rushed and forced. And the conclusion is very quick for such an epic length.
- Ideologically, there is not much to add that hasn't been discussed. Yes, it is a Hollywood consumer product, and yes, there is a sexist dimension to the backlash against this. Other contradictions can be listed. What struck me was the film's sexual explicitness was combined with a simplistic view of sexuality (the Miranda-Steve subplot is pretty embarrassing). Perhaps King could have consulted Dan Savage as co-writer.
- Finally, the success and debate around the film is the most intriguing and at the same time boring aspect. The film opened here on Thursday, and with the Friday holiday, will certainly have a huge opening weekend. It is playing at 4 screens at the Co-ex multiplex here and every screening today was sold out. There is also mass advertising on television. Does this really say anything about the current social zeitgeist? Maybe, and we'll surely have lots of writing, both popular and academic, to explain the phenomenon. It's a cultural marker, to be sure, and more significant than Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and most other blockbusters. But it's also depressing that this is what passes as mainstream feminist (or is it post-feminist?) discourse.
- There's a discussion of the film over at Slate that is worth checking out.