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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


This review contains minor spoilers.

In order to review Sex and the City, I suppose it would be appropriate to discuss my personal history with the popular HBO series on which it's based. I saw the show perhaps a dozen times during its run, and while I always found it to be smart and funny, I never stayed with it consistently. (Not a fault of the show - I just seem to do that with most TV shows I end up watching.) Thanks to Entertainment Weekly and the internet, I managed to hear different things about the program even when I wasn't watching, so I had a general familiarity with the characters and situations before walking into the theater. It is worth saying that hardcore fans are not going to need this review; you are going to love the movie no matter what. Others of you may have also watched the show only sporadically (or not at all) and might be curious about seeing the film anyway. This review is for you.

The set-up was always simple: four fashion-conscious Manhattan women share their life experiences regarding love and, naturally, sex. The movie picks up a few years after the last episode. Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is married with a child, but is experiencing a sexual dry spell with her husband Steve (David Eigenberg) that is negatively impacting the state of their union. Charlotte (Kristen Davis) is also married and has come to terms with her infertility; she and husband Harry (Evan Handler) have adopted a little girl. Sexually liberated Samantha (Kim Cattrall) is living in Hollywood, having finally settled down with her movie star boyfriend "Smith" (Jason Lewis). However, she finds being a one-man woman to be a violation of her true self, and she feels a yearning to be free again.

Then there's Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), the central character. A popular writer of "life and love in the Big Apple" articles, Carrie has been in a long-term relationship with "Mr. Big" (Chris Noth). In the early scenes, they buy an apartment together and decide to marry. The twice-divorced Big develops some pre-wedding jitters though, and he ends up leaving Carrie stranded at the altar. Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha immediately come to their friend's emotional rescue, taking Carrie to a Mexican resort for a few days. When she returns, Carrie hires a personal assistant named Louise (Jennifer Hudson) to help her reorganize her Big-free life and get back on track.

There's a lot of stuff happening here as the script tries to find time for each of the women to have a meaningful story arc. The main flaw of Sex and the City - for newbies or sporadic watchers - is the movie's length. At nearly two-and-a-half hours, this is literally five times as long as an episode of the show. The film could easily have lost half an hour of material, and maybe even a little more, without sacrificing anything. (All those music montages get old after a while.) There's nothing particularly bad here; it just seems to be a bit of overkill. Devoted fans will, of course, disagree with me, as they should. From their standpoint, the excessive length is a gift - a chance to spend quality time with these beloved characters without having to rush through any of their individual plot threads.

What I always liked about "Sex and the City" was not so much its ribald humor (although I like that too) but its depiction of female friendship. Consider the way the girls rally around Carrie during her darkest moment, watching out for her, taking care of her, showing her how life goes on after heartbreak. I've seen women protect their girlfriends like that. The core bonding of the characters has always been the heart and soul of the series, and writer/director Michael Patrick King brings that to the big screen as well. No matter how acquainted you are with the show, the movie works as a depiction of the feminine bond.

I have also always liked the performances. While the characters were well conceived, the actresses all brought something above and beyond to them. Even now, four years after the series went off the air, the stars have the same kind of easy chemistry together. They're clearly loving the chance to be back together again, and that sense of joy comes across to the audience. For that reason, Sex and the City never feels like a cash-in. Instead, it plays more like a labor of love for everyone involved.

I've never been able to really make up my mind about Sarah Jessica Parker. In some movies, I've liked her a lot; in others, I've found her kind of annoying. The fact is, though, that Carrie Bradshaw was always the part she was born to portray. The character plays to all of her strengths and none of her weaknesses. This represents one of her best performances on screen, and it's nice to see that Parker can continue to find new dimensions in Carrie. Nixon, Cattrall, and Davis all match Parker's quality level, earning some raunchy laughs but never at the expense of three-dimensional characterization.

Ah yes, those raunchy laughs. I don't know why "Sex and the City" always got the reputation for being a "chick show." It had enough sex-related humor to please men with a taste for the outrageous. Maybe it was the open expression of female sexuality that put some dudes off. At times, the movie pushes the boundaries of an R-rating with its sexual humor, but man is it funny. I laughed pretty consistently. The smartness of the film is that it takes the subject seriously. Unlike some movies, where female sexuality is overplayed to show that the women can get just as down-and-dirty as the guys, Sex and the City uses it to make observations about what women want/expect/desire from sex. Even after so many seasons on the air, the cast and filmmakers are still finding fresh ways of kicking that door open.

All in all, I had a pretty good time watching this film. I've left out quite a few plot details because there are so many, but rest assured that everything is resolved in a way that makes sense and feels appropriate. The one benefit of the too-long length is that none of the plot strands get the short shrift. Sex and the City really is like a big, long episode of the show. It has good acting, smart lines of dialogue, and a genuine perspective on its subject matter.

Now I kind of feel like getting some DVDs of the seasons I missed…

( out of four)

Sex and the City is rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language. The running time is 2 hours and 25 minutes.

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