The Sex and the City Movie: A Classic Romance

By Poison Ivy,

Allow me to gush. I finally finished watching the last season of “Sex and the City” on DVD, and then headed out for the cineplex to see the movie of the same name. Since I was there nearly two months after the well-hyped opening, I saw it in a theater that had two other women in it. I think the previous showing had only one person watching.

SPOILERS AHEAD, but you must be kidding if you care by now. Most people who intend to see this movie in a theater are done. Even so, I had managed to carefully guard against encountering any spoilers. It was tough, considering the 63-page section about SATC in “Entertainment Weekly” that sat staring at me for over a month. But I had never seen the last TV season, and I wanted to catch up first. I’m always late to the party.

And what a party it was! I just loved this movie. The classic romance themes were especially strong. I’ve read a lot of reactions to the movie now, and I find it interesting that most of the complaints are about elements that are standard in romances, in fact, that are beloved. The opportunity to wear fancy clothing, for instance. Going out to fabulous clubs and parties. Being around rich and glamorous people whose lives are more uninhibited than your own. And, of course, the delights and miseries of love.

Carrie takes it in the heart in this movie. Big treats her about as badly as we all expected him to, considering how he has slighted and hurt her over the years. Their relationship has always, always been about him. Couldn’t the wedding have been about her for a change? But no, he had to chicken out. I must confess that I have never been a fan of Big. (That’s the reason I hadn’t watched Season Six four years ago. I just knew Carrie would pick him, and sight unseen, I wanted Baryshnikov to win. But I confess I was wrong about that.) Chris Noth’s looks do not appeal to me, and Big’s attitude has always been infuriating. But I have always understood why Carrie couldn’t say goodbye to Big and make it stick. Because she’s in love with him.

It’s love that rules her. And it’s love, in this movie, that nearly destroys her. The devastation that Carrie suffers when she is jilted on her wedding day was absolutely familiar to me from many romances I have read. And I ate it up. I loved it. It was done perfectly. There wasn’t a false note. Though I am no fan of scatalogical humor, even I laughed at how Charlotte’s embarrassing case of Montezuma’s Revenge finally brought Carrie out of her morose mood and into laughter again. This was brilliant, especially because Charlotte is the one character who would find the situation truly humiliating.

The movie shows the pain of being betrayed in love in more than one version, with Miranda’s and Samantha’s stories. Miranda and Steve have lost their way because their life has gotten so busy. She’s the perfect wife and has let the lover part go away. And he can’t handle it, and can’t get her to see what’s happened (we don’t see much of that, and as people have commented, that’s slighting Miranda so Carrie can have more of the spotlight). Steve takes some comfort elsewhere. But because Steve loves Miranda and admires her, he can’t help telling her and asking for forgiveness. But Miranda has always been tough on Steve because she’s tough on herself. She fights her softer feelings. As many people have said, she’s a control freak. Her need to control starts with herself. Her consequent anger and anti-marriage remarks perhaps shove Big in the direction of doubts on the eve of his wedding. And doom her and Steve to months of misery.

Samantha has a trickier betrayal to live through. Smith remains the perfect man, but he’s busy, and she’s not busy enough. She spends too much time at home eyeing the sexual antics of the man next door. Finally she realizes that the life she’s living with Smith is not the life she wants to lead. She has betrayed herself. It’s a very interesting and rather subtle ending—or is it a hiatus?—to their love affair. Samantha turns 50 as the movie draws to its conclusion, and she’s just embarking on a new journey towards self-fulfillment. You go, girl.

Several people have cited the lack of attention paid to Charlotte’s marriage to Harry. But as Leo Tolstoy famously said in the opening of Anna Karenina, “All happy families are alike.” What makes Charlotte interesting is not her happiness, but her collection of fears and her reactions to her friends’ situations. Her “I curse the day you were born” line is endearing. It’s so completely useless, so in concert with Charlotte’s way of mincing quickly in her high heels. What’s a nine months pregnant woman doing in stilts like those? But it packs a wallop anyway. It declares her love and loyalty to Carrie.

What surprised me about this movie was not merely the classic romantic suffering that Carrie’s storyline epitomizes so perfectly. But that she eventually sees beyond her own hurt. Instead of just forgiving and forgetting, she learns from it. Carries realizes that she failed Big in a crucial moment and caused her own suffering. We’re used to mocking Bridezillas, and there seems to be nothing of the Bridezilla about Carrie as she happily accepts the perfect gown and finds the perfect venue for her dream wedding. Yet she implicitly asks Big to be a prop on her big day, as Bridezillas do. She ignores his needs (and some of her own; she originally planned to get married in a simple suit). And in a leap to more socially expected behavior, Carrie pressures Big to play the role, as so many women push their men to, through formal events and daily family life, as if it all isn’t ringing hollow to them. Big’s character shows some depth at last when he needs Carrie to get him through the misery of his third fancy wedding day. And she doesn’t understand at the time, or come through for him.

When they finally do reunite (again!), we want it to happen. That’s the ideal ending of the romantic suffering plot. Not that the woman gives in. Nor that the man gives in. But that they both have grown. That they both recognize how fragile and important love is. When Big kneels of his own accord, and proposes because he wants to, their romance is finally complete.

Classic romance at its best.