The summer of 2008 broke history, and rebuilt it. America suffered through a bitter presidential election on the road to a globewrecking financial crisis. In theaters, cinematic generations were rising — and falling. Superheroes, Will Smith, George Lucas, Guillermo del Toro, Emma Stone, Mike Myers, Sisterhoods and Step Brothers, Batman and ABBA, adaptations of TV shows we still tweet about, new installments of movie franchises studios won’t stop rebooting: everything Hollywood was before, alongside everything it still is.
In our weekly column Two Thousand Late, we’ll explore the big hits and curious flops from a summer that has never really ended. Last week: Indiana Jones and the alien ghosts or whatever. Next week: Kung Fu Panda!!!! This week: EW TV critic Kristen Baldwin revisits the cinematic adaptation of a television phenomenon.
It’s easy to forget, after 10 years of seeing the Sex and the City movie on a constant HBO loop, that when Carrie Bradshaw and Co. made their big-screen debut on May 30, 2008, it was an event. A splashy summer movie aimed at grown-up women, starring grown-up actresses, based on a beloved TV show that told grown-up stories for years? This was something that did not happen every day (or month, or year).
Now that Sex and the City: The Movie is background TV wallpaper, something you catch in snippets on Saturday afternoons while folding laundry, it’s also easy to forget that the movie — upon a full rewatch — completely fails to give Carrie Bradshaw the happy ending she (and we) deserve.
As you likely recall, the SATC movie begins with Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Big (Chris Noth) finding a perfect penthouse apartment on the East Side of Manhattan. It’s fabulous and fabulously expensive, but Big — seeing how enthralled Carrie is with the place — assures her with a devilish smirk, “I got it.” (“Like he was picking up the check for coffee or something,” Carrie marvels.)
Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), bless her, is the first to point out the obvious red flag. “But he’ll own it, so you’re keeping your own place, right?” she asks Carrie, who just brushes it off, as she is wont to do, with a joke. “Can’t you … just go ahead and feel what I want you to feel — jealous?” It’s only after attending a jewelry auction — hosted by a jilted “waitress turned model turned actress turned billionaire’s girlfriend” — that Carrie realizes how precarious her position (housing and otherwise) would be should she and Big go bust again.
It was right about this point of the film (11 minutes in, to be exact), that I couldn’t help but wonder, Was Carrie always so timid and mealy-mouthed when it came to asking for what she wanted from Big? She approaches him that night, as they’re making dinner, and hesitantly suggests that she put some money in to pay for the penthouse. “If anything were to happen …” she falters. “I have to be smart here. We’re not married, I’d have no legal rights to this home that I built, with you.” What’s truly upsetting, though, is how pitiful she sounds after Big casually asks if she wants to get married.
Not, “Well, we decided that we weren’t interested in getting married,” or, “Well, we’ve never really discussed marriage before” — instead, it’s I didn’t think that was an option, even though I clearly wanted it to be. Who is this Carrie Bradshaw? Other than her brief final-season bout of insanity with Aleksandr Petrovsky (Mikhail Baryshnikov), I can’t remember another time Carrie allowed herself to become so subjugated to a man. Though she does finally say she wants to get married, Carrie feels the need to qualify it with “if that’s what you want.” Watching this scene again, I was reminded of that poor woman in that pharmaceutical ad for endrometriosis treatment, the one who equivocates when her doctor asks her about pelvic pain (“kinda”), while her True Self badgers her from behind the exam table. “Kinda? Say it’s like something’s hammering at my uterus.” What are you doing, Carrie? Speak up!
Instead, Carrie seems grateful for getting the commitment she’s so long desired from Mr. Big — the twice-divorced philanderer who broke her heart so many times before. To be fair, Big’s image rehab began in the series finale, when he followed Carrie to Paris and tearfully declared, “Carrie, you’re the one” — and according to the movie’s “previously on” recap, the couple had been living in unwedded bliss for three years. I suppose it’s fine that she had grown to trust him, but it’s not okay the movie version of Carrie Bradshaw seems afraid to talk to him about their relationship in any substantive way.
It is only when the wedding day goes awry — Big drives away, too “thrown” by “this whole bride-and-groom thing” to go through with the ceremony — that Carrie finds her voice. “I knew you would do this!” she shrieks, pelting Big with her bouquet. “I knew it!” You see, about 30 seconds after leaving, Big has a “what the f— am I doing?” moment and comes back, so when the movie inevitably asks us to forgive him, we’ll be able to do it relatively guilt-free.
Here, though, is where the Carrie and Big story gets really weird. Mr. Big disappears 53 minutes into the movie, and he doesn’t come back until about 15 minutes before the end, when a pregnant Charlotte (Kristin Davis) spots him at a restaurant. During that 70-minute gap, Carrie goes through the many stages of grief — day sleeping, drinking, hiring a personal assistant — while Big remains missing in action. (Did Noth have a non-refundable vacation booked during production or something?)
The concept of forgiveness, of what a relationship can withstand and what it can’t, is addressed primarily through Miranda’s storyline, as she struggles to come to terms with the fact that her otherwise good-guy husband, Steve (David Eigenberg), had a one-night stand. The most emotionally substantive conversation in the film is not between our heroine, Carrie, and the man who wronged her, it’s between Carrie and Miranda. “You know, what I think hurts the most is that you kept a secret from me,” Carrie fumes, through tears. In a poignant twist, Miranda’s efforts to defend herself — “It just happened, I wasn’t thinking” — echo the many entreaties she heard from Steve.
In fact, the movie spends far more time on Miranda and Steve’s marriage — what went wrong, and what work they put in to fix it — than it does on convincing us that Carrie should take Big back. After all, Steve messed up one time. Mr. Big let Carrie down over and over and over again — and yet the movie didn’t think she (and we, the fans who love her) deserved to see him experience a little emotional growth? Instead, his remorse is communicated through Harry (Evan Handler) at the hospital, after Charlotte has the baby. “I feel bad for the guy,” says Harry, SATC’s platonic ideal of a husband. “He says he’s been writing to you and you never responded.”
Well, writing might be a bit of a stretch, pal — it turns out that all this time Mr. Big has been doing his penance off-screen, re-typing love letters by historical figures and emailing them to email@example.com. The one original missive he writes says simply, “I know I screwed it up — but I will love you forever.” And just as Miranda had led with her heart, not her pro-con list, when deciding to meet Steve halfway across the Brooklyn Bridge, Carrie — seeing Big again in the penthouse’s absurdly lavish walk-in closet — decides to err on the side of romance. “It wasn’t logic,” she explains to us via voiceover, as Carrie rushes into Big’s arms. “It was love.”
But why was Big’s mediocre atonement enough for Carrie? Why was it enough for me in 2008? Though the scene irked me, I remember being way more annoyed that one of Kristin Davis’ showcase moments involved Charlotte pooping her pants. Maybe it’s because today I have 10 more years of marriage under my belt — and trust me kids, marriage is definitely a Miranda, not a Carrie. Or maybe it’s because in 2018, women are demanding a little more respect — something Carrie seems reluctant to give herself. “After 20 years of everything we’ve learned, I threw it all away for the thrill of putting his name on the honeymoon suite,” she laments … about half an hour before she throws it all away again because the heart wants what it wants, I guess.
Maybe that was the point. And Carrie’s “everything will be fine” attitude about Big, though annoying in retrospect, isn’t enough to tarnish the movie irreparably. EW originally gave SATC: The Movie a C, but I’d argue it retains most of the show’s spirit of fizzy, well-dressed female empowerment. We can only hope that next time — SATC 3 will likely never happen, but a reboot very well could — Carrie Bradshaw tempers her love with just a bit more logic.
Complete Summer 2008 Schedule:
May 2: Iron Man and Made of Honor
May 9: Speed Racer
May 16: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
May 22: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull
May 30: Sex and the City
June 6: Kung Fu Panda
June 13: The Happening
June 20: Get Smart, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, and The Love Guru
June 27: Wall-E and Wanted
July 2: Hancock
July 11: Hellboy 2: The Golden Army
July 18: Mamma Mia and The Dark Knight
July 25: Step Brothers
Aug. 1: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
Aug. 6: Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 and Pineapple Express
Aug. 13: Tropic Thunder
Aug. 15: Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Aug. 22: The House Bunny