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Seen with ms_siobhan at the Cottage Road Cinema.

I went into this film forewarned that it would reduce the cause of feminism to a shallow, materialist parody, while also being terrifyingly offensive about Middle Eastern culture to boot. Some of the reviews I had read included:And you know, OVERALL, those reviews are all absolutely right. This film buys straight into any number of questionable western patriarchal stereotypes, which should be enough to write it off on its own. It also isn't a patch on the TV series, and is catastrophically out-of-touch with its recession-hit audience. It is poorly paced and structured, with minor characters popping up one minute and forgotten the next, and minor plot-points rushed through so fast that if you blinked you would miss them. It is crawling with unsubtle product placements (Rolex, Spanx, iPhone, and doubtless many others which I am too fashion-ignorant to spot). AND it includes a superfluous apostrophe, clearly visible in the title of a Vogue article entitled 'Marriage and the terrible two's' which we see Carrie printing out in the first half of the film. ARGH! ms_siobhan and I certainly had plenty to exclaim in horror and disbelief over as we headed for delicious Thai food afterwards, and I fervently hope that my memories of the TV show won't be further tarnished by yet another foray into sequel territory.

But the experience of watching it ended up being for me above all an object lesson in the dangers of over-stating a rhetorical case. Because while I agree with the basic points which all of the above reviews are making, now that I have seen the film I can also see that in several places all three of them have slipped into caricaturing what the film actually does in order to get those points across. The result is that I find myself in the rather odd position of feeling that I need to defend certain aspects of the film against particular points made in those reviews, even though I entirely agree with their overall assessments.

See the thing is - yes, Samantha is shown taking 44 vitamin pills every morning to 'trick [her] body into believing that it is younger'. But we are not being asked to admire or aspire to this ourselves. In fact, I think Hadley Freeman in The Guardian is simply incorrect to state that Carrie and Miranda look impressed by what Samantha is doing. They appeared to me to be faintly horrified, while Miranda's retort that she has tricked her body into thinking that it is thinner seemed more to me like her way of signalling to a now-rather-ashamed Samantha that she is her friend and doesn't intend to judge her than it did an agreement that such behaviour is to be embraced. Furthermore, just as Samantha has filled her mouth with pills, Charlotte's buxom new au pair comes bounding across the lawn in slow-motion, over-flowing with the flush and beauty of real youth. Samantha gapes enviously, and we are treated to a close-up shot of her open mouth full of pills as she does so. To me, this was a direct invitation to us in the audience to compare Samantha's vain attempts to fake youth with the epitome of the real thing - and to draw our own conclusions.

And yes, we are shown that Miranda's job is interfering with her home life, and yes, she leaves it and is (temporarily) much happier. But Lindy West in the Seattle Stranger distorts the case by suggested that the underlying message here is: "This is because women should not work. It is terrible for the children." Because we are also explicitly shown that the problem is not the fact that Miranda works per se, but the fact that her boss in this particular job is a sexist asshole who regularly tells her to stop talking so that he can listen to her male colleagues instead. On holiday in Abu Dhabi, Miranda tells Charlotte that motherhood alone is not enough for her, and also rises instantly, willingly and competently to the challenge when Samantha suddenly turns out to need legal aid (see below). And at the end of the film she gets a new job which she finds fulfilling and satisfying. OK, yes, so this particular plot development gets all of about thirty seconds of screen-time, which is a problem in itself. But that is the satisfactory resolution to Miranda's story, not leaving the miserable job for full-time motherhood in the first place.

And yes, we do indeed witness the sorry spectacle of Samantha hurling condoms at Middle Eastern men in the street, and yelling at them that real women fuck. But again, we are not asked to applaud this. It is in fact part of a wider story arc in which she clashes disastrously with the local culture, and which has also included her getting arrested for fondling and kissing a man in public, and then finding that as a result she has been unceremoniously dropped from the PR assignment which brought her to Abu Dhabi in the first place and ejected from the hotel. The condom-hurling scene happens because she is sleep-deprived and humiliated after her arrest, and someone has just accused her of stealing her own handbag - which is the reason why her its contents, including the condoms, have ended up scattered across the road. So while none of this shows Samantha off to good effect, it is also disingenuous of reviewers to suggest either that she does it purely for kicks, or that we aren't given every invitation to cringe along with her friends at her behaviour. Indeed, I thought that Samantha's whole trajectory in this story was presented in a way which showed up her limitations and asked us as the audience to aspire to something better - actually quite an admirable and challenging thing for the film to be trying to do.

So all in all, this may be a pretty crappy film, peddling some seriously unsound ideologies and not even terribly well put-together as a story. But you know, when the reviews make that very point by peddling distorted half-truths, they also undermine their own case. I guess I should know by my age that that's how journalism works (she says, still scowling angrily at The Telegraph). But sometimes I don't half wish it wasn't.

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Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
ms_siobhan
Jun. 3rd, 2010 09:31 pm (UTC)
The more I think about the way Samantha was portrayed in the film the more annoyed I am as it seems to be the epitome of menopause automatically equals loony unstable woman and to be pitied.

It was a terrible film but a good giggle in places though I think I was laughing at bits that weren't necessarily meant to be funny.

Plus as I already said on Farcebook I could have done without the close ups of not quite erect cocks. Most offputting.

I had a top night out and we shall have to do it again :-)
strange_complex
Jun. 3rd, 2010 10:24 pm (UTC)
Yes, that is true about Samantha - and I think it's also mixed in with an element of slut-shaming, as a lot of what we were invited to laugh at was how desperate she was to hang on to her sex life. She didn't come out of the film well at all, and I think that in the case of her cultural insensitivity that was perfectly justified, but that the issue of the menopause could have been more sensitively handled.
kantti
Jun. 4th, 2010 08:46 am (UTC)
I'm interested to see your take on the film. I was really hoping they'd learn from the errors of the first film in the second film, but it seems like quite the reverse has happened. I was planning to grit my teeth and go see it, but I've decided I just can't bear to.

If the Hadley Freeman article is the one I'm thinking of, she'd written it without seeing the film, which isn't exactly sterling journalism and what you hope for in a review. (On the other hand, with a film so hotly anticipated, it's natural to have articles about it before it's actually released.) The Guardian did have an equally damning review once the film came out, although in that case the reviewer's main criticism that it was verry boring.
strange_complex
Jun. 4th, 2010 09:07 am (UTC)
Yes, Freeman seems to have written it based on a few preview clips, but without having been able to see the whole thing. I'll look out the review from after the film came out which you mention, and see how it compares. But yes - if you were worried about what this film would be like anyway after seeing the first one, I'd say you're best to steer clear. Have a nice night in with a bottle of wine instead!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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