Sex and the City and the Misunderstandings Concerning Female Escapist Fantasy

I first published this massive essay on gender and escapism in September 2008. Since Sex and the City 2 is facing (fairly or not) the same kind of scrutiny that the first did, I thought it was worth a re-look. This is not about whether the films are good or not, but whether critics properly understand the genre that said franchise represents. If you've been reading me from the beginning, this is pretty much as it was with a few minor tweaks...

I would love to get on a high horse and proclaim that Sex and the City: The Movie is a terrific movie and that the critics who hated it were misogynist pigs. Some of them may be, but it's still a mediocre movie. Once the emotional plot comes fully center after the first hour, the film slightly improves. But the writing just isn't as sharp as the best episodes of the series (I've seen a few, my wife's seen a bunch) and the characters feel thinner. The film is 151 minutes long, but there is less plot than The X-Files: I Want To Believe. But, at its core, it suffers from the same problem as many romantic dramas and comedies. Without going into spoilers, the film's plot catalyst never would have occurred if the main characters just talked to each other like adults for three minutes. Furthermore, the conflict could have been resolved right on the spot with another thirty-seconds of straight communication, explaining how last minute jitters and a child's mistake led to disaster (sorry for the vagueness, no reason to spoil something that occurs an hour into the movie). So the film suffers due to the idiot plot, as do many other movies. And the romantic partners refuse to talk to each other like adults, but that seems to be the case for most romantic comedies (and most relationships in the entertainment world to boot). That doesn't explain the outcry of outrage that occurred following the opening day and opening weekend.

The resulting circus, personified by Jeff Wells' statements that the film represented 'an Al Qaeda recruitment film,' or was the equivalent of the 'OJ Simpson verdict' in terms of showing women in a negative, superficial light, was sexist and confounding to boot. Mass audiences embrace all kinds of films that are stupid, superficial, or just plain terrible and they have for a century. Now that women are enjoying a film aimed at them that is just as sugary, fantastical, and (almost) fantastically terrible as Ghost Rider or Top Gun, the men in Hollywood are frothing at the mouth in amazement and condemnation.

If anything, this will be good for female entertainment. Hopefully, now women can be allowed to enjoy films targeted at them that are just as fluffy and superficial and wish-fulfillment-y as Transformers. And, eventually, they can enjoy such films without being criticized for it. Yes, there are those who wish that every black-themed film was Rosewood or Do The Right Thing, but progress comes when black people can enjoy Soul Plane without being criticized for it by blacks and whites alike. Sex and the City is just a major film aimed at women that is (apparently) just as superficial and goofy as fantastical as most of the wish-fulfillment aimed at young boys. The huge opening number merely points out how few of these are made for women.

For the gist on female escapism and how it differs from male escapism, as well as my pick for the best female-driven comedy of modern times, read the rest of this article at Mendelson's Memos.