A right ‘Carrie On’ in the Arabian desert

The execrable Sex and the City 2 offers an accidentally fascinating insight into the crisis of American values.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Culture

Featuring four old broads and their ups and downs with love, sex and money, Sex and the City becomes more like The Golden Girls with every outing.

Kim Cattrall, who plays slutty Samantha Jones, is now the same age that Rue McClanahan was when she played slutty pensioner Blanche Devereaux: 53. The preppy Charlotte Goldenblatt (Kristin Davis) is now a fully-fledged rip-off of Rose Nylund, all wide-eyed naivety and cookie-baking. And in the new movie, the relationship between the lead character Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Mr Big (Chris Noth) is a dead ringer for the relationship between Dorothy Zbornak and her estranged husband Stan: strained, standoffish, but, at root, a snug fit.

But there’s a big difference between these two shows: Sex and the City 2 makes The Golden Girls look like the funniest thing America ever gave the world. The new movie is unspeakably bad. Starting with a gay wedding at which Liza Minnelli, looking like a Frankenstein monster assembled from the leftover bits on a plastic surgeon’s table, performs Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’, and ending with a Benny Hill-style chase through a souk in Abu Dhabi in which our four heroines don burqas to escape the morality police, Sex and the City 2 goes from bad to worse to WTF? in what feels like an age but is in fact ‘only’ two-and-a-half hours.

Two years on from the events of the first film, the four New Yorkers are settled but uneasy. Carrie is finally hitched to Mr Big but he prefers watching The Deadliest Catch to conversing with his wife (a wise choice given the dreadful script she spouts from). Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is a partner in a law firm but has a boss who really ‘rides her ass’ (this means something different in America).

Charlotte has two kids and a beautiful young Irish nanny who doesn’t wear a bra and is catching the eye of Charlotte’s husband. (Everyone has predictably complained about SATC2’s depiction of Muslims but has overlooked its libels against the Irish: played by British actress Alice Eve, the nanny has the worst Irish accent ever verbalised and literally does nothing except jump up and down, breasts-a-bouncin’, to diddly-dee music straight out of The Quiet Man.) Samantha, meanwhile, is free and single again but has to take 43 pills a day to try to stave off the menopause.

To escape their woes, the women go on an all-expenses-paid trip to Abu Dhabi, courtesy of one of Samantha’s PR clients. This takes up two-thirds of the film, which is about eight hours, meaning that the ‘fifth character’ of Sex and the City, who was always the most intriguing one, is excised from most of the movie – yep, it’s Sex and the City without New York, which is a bit like egg and chips without chips. Or egg.

The worst part of the film is the puns and turns of phrase. When the ‘girls’ (they still refer to themselves as such) are invited to buy rugs and stuff in Abu Dhabi they say: ‘Bedouin, bath and beyond!’ Spying a hot man in the desert, Samantha says he’s the ‘Lawrence of my labia’. Miranda urges them all to get a move on at Abu Dhabi airport by saying: ‘We have a lot to do in Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi Do!’ Carrie describes helping out one of the other women as an ‘inter-friend-tion’. When they all get a bit down Miranda says she is going to ‘turn this inter-friend-tion into an inter-fun-tion’. I mean, Jesus Christ. It’s awful. It’s ‘Sex and the Shitty’ (geddit?).

But one very accidentally interesting thing about the film is the reason why it shifts to Abu Dhabi. This has thrown critics, most of whom interpret it as a ‘glossy advertorial… touting the cosmopolitan lifestyle and business-friendly tax policies of some Middle Eastern nation’ (in the words of Slate).

In fact, the reason SATC decamps to the Middle East (or ‘de-camps’, as one of its scriptwriters would no doubt say) is because it is desperate to make its two big selling points – women talking about sex and the allegedly liberating nature of fashion – feel still relevant and urgent. And because it can no longer do that in NYC, where 12 years after SATC first appeared on TV screens it all seems so passé, it has to travel 6,700 miles to a place where having women talk about cocks and wear skirts designed for 13-year-olds is considered outrageous.

The Middle East is used as a backdrop for desperately preserving the shock appeal of SATC. Feeling that the New Feminism, which was always more about zigga-zig-ah than seizing power, has run its course in the West, the ‘girls’ take it to the burqa-clad deserts of Arabia instead. Instantly Samantha seems like a rebel again: her character’s outrageousness raises barely an eyebrow over here, where she’s considered loveably hilarious, but in Abu Dhabi she’s arrested for kissing on a beach. Carrie’s tendency to define herself through weird and wacky clothes takes on a new, social meaning in Abu Dhabi, where the New Yorkers bump into a group of women who secretly wear Louis Vuitton beneath their burqas. High fashion is liberating!

In the most pathetic scene, they are running away from robe-wearing male moralists when suddenly Samantha trips and a tonne of condoms falls from her purse. The Arabs are disgusted, but Samantha decides to fess up to her outrageous sexuality. ‘Yeeeah, they’re CONDOMS. Yeeeah, I like to have SEX’, she wails, dressed in gold shorts and skimpy vest while flipping the Arab men the finger. This is what SATC has been reduced to: asserting its saucy, allegedly rebellious streak in the middle of a conservative souk in the Middle East. It’s like a sad, Carry On version of what passes for the American Culture Wars more broadly today, where US leaders have also only been able to assert American liberty extremely defensively on the world stage, by contrasting their way of life to the repressive existences of burqa-imprisoned women Over There.

Yet many of the former fans and feminists slating Sex and the City 2 must shoulder some of the blame for this massive faux pas of a movie. Rather than simply applauding SATC for being a funny TV show, they always got Carried away by its apparently profound, liberating, feministic jolt to Western culture’s nervous system. Who can blame Carrie and Co. for now believing that they should export this ‘revolution’ around the world?

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked. Visit his personal website here.

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