If you had asked me to come up with a more random, unlikely, and downright culturally inappropriate place than Abu Dhabi to send the four characters from Sex and the City on vacation in this sequel, I'd have been stumped.
"It's the new Middle East!" they crow as they luxuriate on the plane, in their chauffeured cars, and touring their suite of rooms. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Charlotte (Kristin Davis), and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) also have personal male servants to wait on them hand and foot. They're glared at by the men and are fascinated by women in burqas, especially the one modestly lifting her veil just enough to eat French fries one by one with a fork.
Sex and the City 2 not only panders to the worst stereotypes of Americans abroad but also to the Middle East. Watch as Charlotte stumbles in high heeled sandals in the desert and tries to get iPhone reception while riding a camel. Stare in horror as Samantha fellates a hookah pipe in public. Check out Carrie as she wanders the beach forlornly followed by her handsome manservant holding an umbrella to shield her from the sun. Look on aghast while the four of them perform "I Am Woman" in the middle of a giant karaoke club, complete with belly dancers. At least Miranda has enough sense to try and get Samantha to observe local custom and wear a little more clothing than usual, despite Samantha's menopausal hot flashes.
Besides clocking in at a bloated 146 minutes, Sex and the City 2 is more about the opulence of their vacation and their wardrobes than the dialogue between women that won the HBO show so many loyal viewers. Although there are some great moments between the friends, such as when Miranda coaxes Charlotte to admit that she feels guilty for being so frustrated by motherhood, or Carrie's anxieties that she and Mr. Big (Chris Noth) will become another boring married couple, the real focus is their epic - and empty - vacation.
When Sex and the City first started on HBO in 1998, it changed the way women were seen on TV. Mary Tyler Moore had Rhoda and her crew of friends, and the Golden Girls certainly had their own special vibe, but we'd never before seen the trials and tribulations of four very different women living and loving (or just lusting) in New York City quite like this.
Every week, Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte discussed over meals and cocktails friends with benefits, farting in front of new boyfriends, career choices, uncircumcised penises, health problems, and so much more. But it wasn't just about sex and men and fashion; it was about each other, it was about the best types of friendships between women, and it was about both creating a space for women to discuss all of this and more out in the open. Yes, the women in Sex and the City have lives many women dreamed of, and no, not even in the most flush days of magazine publishing did a weekly columnist have an apartment or wardrobe like Carrie's. But the things they talked about, even in the somewhat broad strokes allowed for a half-hour series, were real and true for many women and still are. Ten years later, we are still watching the reruns and DVDs and, obviously, returning to our old pals again and again, no matter what kind of insane hat Patricia Fields plops on Carrie's head.
And as the four have grown older, so has their audience, and their discussions continue to reflect that. Balancing out what works in your marriage versus what other people think, worrying about being a good mother, deciding when it's time to make a career change, and dealing with menopause with humor - these are all things that are vital parts of the female experience, and I'm so glad that Sex and the City ekes out even the tiniest bit of room for them. I truly believe that the writer and actors in this movie want the best for their audience; they want to give them a wonderful escape and a fun-filled night out and to show the love and friendship that's possible between a disparate group of women (or, hell, any women in today's Bridezilla/catfight-filled media). Unfortunately, the story itself is full of tired one-liners like "You knew when you married me I'm more Coco Chanel than coq au vin!", fights about anniversary presents, and a really absurd caper involving burqas that will make your head spin. Setting a story about reinventing tradition in their own lives in the Middle East might have seemed cheeky and smart at the time, but it comes off as xenophobic and ridiculous. There's a reason they had to film it in Morocco.