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|The Fantastic Four aka Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte (Sarah Jessica Parker-Kim Cattrall,
out actor Cynthia Nixon, and Kristin Davis) are back in Sex and the City 2 almost exactly two years
to the day after the blockbuster first movie edition just about single handedly brought women (and
gay men) back into the theatres in droves. With such a big financial hit on their hands who can
blame out writer-director-producer Michael Patrick King, his stars, and their supporting cast from
making a return trip to Carrieland?
Everything that fans of the original HBO series loved (which now seems like a cultural eon ago and is
actually a good decade in the past) is here though a tad more subdued and a bit more long in the
tooth. The fabulous fashions, the shoes, the trendy restaurants and nightclubs, the stunning, hot
men, and the bitchy bon mots? Check. The over the top characters bordering on the stereotypical?
Check. At least one sequence with a wedding so gaudy that it seems tailor-made for an episode of
These last two items combine in the movie’s opening scenes in which the gay sidekicks, the fussy
dandy Pee Wee Herman look-a-like Stanford (Willie Garson) and his one time nemesis, the loud
mouth Italian wedding planner Anthony (out comic actor Mario Cantone) have now found true love
with each other (for convenience’s sake apparently) and take their vows in Connecticut where “the
views are breathtaking and gay marriage is legal.” The affair is color coded in black and white with a
gay choir belting out “If Ever I Would Leave You,” and “Sunrise, Sunset” as the two grooms are wed
by – naturally – Liza Minnelli who goes on to perform Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” at the reception.
But there’s a fly in the wedding cake when Anthony tells the gals in all seriousness that getting
married doesn’t mean he has to be monogamous which once again gives Carrie something to Think
About. Maybe to prove that, King doesn’t so much as give us a kiss between his two gay love birds
and once these two have set up the theme of the movie – as in the series – they’re dropped back
into the background and not seen again.
Carrie, it seems, still yearns for the old sassy, free-spirited single gal who conquered Manhattan (and
plenty of hunky fellas on the way) and isn’t ready to settle down with nights spent at home or a TV in
the bedroom taking Big’s (Chris Noth) attention away from her. Other mid-life crisis issues are also
hitting the ladies (from menopause to fat to fidelity) so the quartet jump at the chance to head for
Abu Dhabi, all expenses paid, when Miranda lands a prospective PR client with a fancy hotel.
Here the movie kicks into a travel ad for the luxuries of the Middle East as the ladies hop aboard an
exclusive airline ending up at a zillion star hotel/resort where they indulge their fantasy whims with a
jam packed itinerary. The movie then meanders, with its share of laughs, for a long time out there
in the desert (just as the first one did when the gals headed to Mexico), at times flirting uneasily with
women’s rights issues (which come to a head when the ladies belt out “I Am Woman” in a karaoke
bar along with their Middle East counterparts) until the fidelity/what does marriage mean? question
kicks back in thanks to the reappearance of Carrie’s old love Aidan (John Corbett). Carrie, drawn to
the older, slightly paunchy but still dreamy heartthrob, must face herself in the mirror as always after
an illicit kiss and realize like Dorothy that there’s no place like home.
Though it’s assured from the first note of the familiar Sex and the City theme that this would be the
outcome, our Carrie will, as always, need time to kvetch, rebel, kick up her heels on her own yellow
brick road, and kvetch some more before figuring that out and making a Big Heartfelt speech at the
last second. And just as in the first go round, this Sex and the City 2 gives her all the time in the
world. But unlike the first edition, which also clocked in at nearly 2 ½ hours, this time when touching
back to earth the Sex and the City juggernaut leaves one feeling more than a little jetlagged.
Tempting as those big box office payoffs are King might take a page from his leading character and
learn that, fun as these outings are, it might be time for Carrie & Company to hang up the Manolo
Blahniks and stay home once and for all.
The City of Your Final Destination is the first Merchant-Ivory film without the participation of
Ismail Merchant, gay director James Ivory’s business and rumored personal partner who died in
2005. So pronounced is the Merchant-Ivory imprimatur on film – based on their myriad period
adaptations of classics of English literature – the phrase has come to stand for something
increasingly rare in cinema: a movie as literary, sophisticated, and entertaining as the novels from
which they’re adapted.
But somehow, the Merchant-Ivory magic spell falters when the material moves away from a historical
period and English locales. Their modern day movies have a tendency to seem creaky and out of
touch (Le Divorce, Slaves of New York anyone?) and that’s one of the biggest flaws in The City of Your
Final Destination, adapted by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala in her 23rd collaboration with Ivory. And the
material, based on the novel by out writer Peter Cameron, also has maddening character and
situation gaps that further require one to suspend disbelief. But if you can make that leap the movie
offers many of the signature Merchant/Ivory/Jhabvala compensations – the pages of reflective,
literary dialogue spoken by the sophisticated, artistically inclined characters, the lush locations and
exquisitely framed compositions (this time accompanied by the music of Jorge Drexler instead of the
usual Richard Robbins), and the uniformly expert performances from a cast that includes Anthony
Hopkins (playing his first onscreen gay character), Laura Linney, and Charlotte Gainsbourg.
The story focuses on Omar (the dreamy Omar Metwally), a college professor who has been turned
down in his attempt to write an authorized biography by the surviving family members of a now dead
writer, enshrined for penning one acclaimed novel (think J.D. Salinger or Harper Lee). At the behest
of his headstrong girlfriend and fellow college prof, Deidre (Alexandra Maria Lara), Omar travels to
Uruguay and Gund’s private estate, Ocho Rios, to get them to change their minds.
Omar arrives at the estate and is immediately invited to stay (the first lapse in believability) by
Gund's free-spirited but anxiety prone mistress Arden (Gainsbourg). He quickly meets the others –
Caroline, Gund’s widow (Linney), a chilly scold, his gay brother Adam (Hopkins) and
Adam’s lover Pete (an especially effective Hiroyuki Sanada) – all of whom live together in apparent,
hermetically sealed harmony along with Arden’s precocious little daughter.
They’re a cultured group who sip cocktails, listen to classical music, and watch old movies (Hopkins is
given cravats to wear and an apparently still active sex life – we glimpse a nude Sanada lying
adoringly at his side and witness a convincing amount of physical affection between the two). And
though we quickly discern that even beyond the grave Gund wields tremendous influence over his
survivors and is still holding sway over their lives, something they are desperate to be free of, Omar
doesn’t seem to. For a biographer he doesn’t really seem to care much about digging into the life of
his subject. He seems like a neophyte and not even much of an obsessed fan of Gund’s novel. He
never presents credentials, barely talks about his subject. It’s an odd, very strange hiccup in the plot
and on thinks, “If he weren’t such a cutie pie would any of these cultured elites give this guy the time
of day?” Instead, as Omar becomes infatuated with Arden his objective fritters into the
background. That is until an accident brings Deidre to Ocho Rios to shake things up.
The movie’s oddly lyrical tone – helped along by the character’s self-inflicted withdrawal from the
world at large to the slowly decaying estate (they’re like the French estate owners in Cambodia in
Apocalypse Now Redux) – is broken by an unnecessary last act coda that feels tacked on and robs the
movie of its strange, elliptical feeling. And the love affair between Omar and Arden isn’t nearly as
convincing as the one between Adam and Pete.
It’s this long enduring relationship – the one between the elderly gay couple – that makes The City of
Your Final Destination (which has been sitting on the shelf for three years) the real reason to see the
movie. Ignore the weak, central character, the cuckoo love affair, the other problems with the movie,
and concentrate on these two. Aside from being delicately and simply presented – if I don’t miss my
guess – this relationship also serves as a fitting tribute to Merchant by Ivory.