You go, girlfriends

Alright, I admit it, I was a bit tipsy when I went to see Sex & The City 2 on Friday. I came straight from a bar already filling up with people who had clocked off early due to the glorious weather, and rolled up at the Curzon for the 6pm showing of SATC2 in what experts are calling “the right mood”. The staff at the Curzon, more used to showing foreign arthouse movies to discerning audiences of five or six, had really thrown themselves at SATC2 – a) by showing it, and b) by laying on a special menu of cocktails and fizz. I ordered a Socialite – presumably made up: champagne, elderflower liqueur, single ice cube – and settled down into a cinema almost exclusively populated by women, most of them in gangs. I counted five other men. I was the sixth man. I experienced exactly the same sensation when I went to see SATC1. I wonder if any of us six weren’t gay?

Here’s my relationship with SATC: I used to leave the room when it was on telly, made uncomfortable by the frank, HBO-certificate talk of spunk and juice coming out of the ladies’ mouths and surmising that this programme was “not for me.” Naturally, I was falling into the heterosexual male stereotype and as this is not my style, I eventually stopped leaving the room once I’d latched on to just how funny it was. To swerve it would have been to miss some terrific comic writing and four spirited female performances. I wasn’t into Carrie to begin with, and the designer labels and fashion fetishism went right over my head, but Miranda and Charlotte intrigued me, and Kim Catrall created a superb female character for a more enlightened age. Also, the men were not all bimbos and models and cutouts; indeed, skilled actors like Evan Handler, John Corbett, Kyle McLachlan and David Eigenberg really helped to paint a fuller picture. This show was not just about those big, stiff, square bags from clothes shops and wedding magazines.

Ironically – and I say that only because the same creators and cast were behind it – the first SATC film was all about those big, stiff, square bags from clothes shops and wedding magazines. In it, Carrie almost married Mr Big and then didn’t, and then did. I’ll be honest, I enjoyed it, but only as I might have enjoyed two reasonable but not classic episodes of the series. (I’ve seen many episodes twice, or more, as they are constantly aired, on a loop, on Comedy Central. The best ones bear repeat viewings, always a good sign.) Advance word on SATC2 was bad: more of the same, even less like the TV series, arbitrary location filming in Morocco (standing in for the United Arab Emirates), etc. But I thought, sod it, let’s have a look. How bad can it be?

Well, high on the occasion, the oestrogen and the champagne bubbles, I couldn’t have been a more sympathetic audience. Nor could I have been in better company to cast aside my critical faculties and just enjoy the shallow, materialistic, fetishistic, consumerist, post-feminist fun. And I did. It’s worse than SATC1 on every level. Once we’ve moved on from an opulent gay wedding at the beginning, at which Liza Minelli shows her legs, the action shifts all too soon to Abu Dabi, where the recession is even further from view and the accent all too parodically on wealth and comfort and luxury. I know the girls always eat and drink in fancy places in Manhattan, and live in ludicrously well appointed apartments, but their lives always used to be about problems that eclipsed the cushiness of their income brackets. By packing them off to the desert and have them emerge from the heat haze as idiot Western clothes-horses, utterly oblivious to local religious and cultural customs, we see the worst in Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha. And there’s not enough of the men, who are left at home, holding various babies. (Alice Eve I think gets one speaking scene as Charlotte and Harry’s bra-less “Irish” nanny; all she is called upon to do otherwise is bounce. It’s a waste. And reduces Harry to a potential letch.)

Oh, there’s plenty wrong with SATC2. It’s like two very poor episodes of the TV series, with less frank sex talk, and uninteresting dilemmas mostly played out on holiday, and a cavalier attitude to economic reality (Carrie can’t sell her other apartment so has to keep it on as an empty crash-pad – how the credit crunch bites, eh?).

But, frankly, it’s not for film critics. And if you’re seeing it at a preview screening with – let’s face it – loads of other middle-aged male critics, it’s going to seem even more heinous – hence: the reviews. To get past its deficiencies, you must experience it in a cinemaful of women; otherwise, there’s no point in trying to judge it. This is not about whether it’s as good as the series, or as good or bad as the first film, it’s a night out. It’s not a film. It’s a way of life. To pick critical holes is, I think, to misunderstand SATC‘s appeal. I’ve read Natasha Walter; I understand why it’s intellectually and politically dangerous with its accent on decoration and retail therapy, but show me a cinema where that many people (the Curzon had two simultaneous second showings at 8.30 and 9pm, whose excited patrons filled the lobby as I left) are having that good a time on a Friday night and I’ll burn my bra.

Incidentally, I’m not patronising the target audience by suggesting it has no critical faculties – it would be the same as seeing an arthouse film with a dedicated arthouse audience who might be equally “on side” – I’m just saying: a good time is a good time.

So, I enjoyed Sex & The City 2. But it’s not a very good film. Oh, and I shouted out, “You go, girlfriend!” when the lights dimmed and the film started, and another woman behind me shouted it too! I am in touch with my feminine side!