All Carrie Bradshaw can do is gasp. The sight before her is simply too good to be true: a gleaming, gold and white closet spacious enough to house every last thread of her beloved designer wardrobe, if not the entire contents of her single-gal apartment. And it's hers. All hers an engagement gift from Mr. Big, who bought the resplendent Manhattan flat in which this temple of couture worship sits. Of course, it's really a lavish set nestled into New York's Silvercup Studios, the same place where Sarah Jessica Parker and Chris Noth shot Sex and the City for seven years.
Now, on this chilly December afternoon, three months into shooting the big-screen version of SATC, the pair is enjoying the ease and familiarity of longtime costars. (''Squeeze his nose!'' Parker jokes, as a makeup artist gives Noth a touch-up between takes.) But when writer-director Michael Patrick King calls ''Action!'' they fall back into character. Oohing and ahhing, Carrie sets down her shopping bags and saunters through the closet. ''Like it?'' Mr. Big asks. ''Like it?'' she replies. ''It's love at first sight.'' Then, as if handling a sacred relic, Carrie places what else? a brand-new pair of Manolo Blahniks on the closet's enormous shoe rack. Beaming, she turns back to Big: ''Now I believe this is all really happening.''
Funny, that's just what we were thinking. For years, the Sex and the City movie seemed about as likely a possibility as Carrie buying pleather shoes at Payless. When a planned feature adaptation of the hit HBO series fell apart in 2004, just after the show ended its six-season run, not even King, the show's exec producer, harbored hopes that it would ever rise from the dead: ''Oh, I thought it was over,'' he recalls. And as time ticked by following the series finale, the team was faced with the increasingly real chance that even if they could get a film together, audiences just might not be that into these ladies anymore.
Cut to four years later. After much meticulous planning, creative hustling, and good old-fashioned wing-and-a-prayer determination, Parker & Co.'s little labor of love is a reality. And it's generated enough frenzied interest from paparazzi, fans, advertisers, and gossip blogs to prove that the Sex and the City brand is still more potent than one of Samantha's Flirtinis. The movie has the potential to turn into that rarest of entities in Hollywood: a female-driven summer blockbuster. For Parker, that possibility makes the experience of reprising her iconic role all the more satisfying. ''It feels wonderful,'' she says, kicking off her leopard-print Christian Louboutin stilettos and settling into a plush white couch in her Silvercup dressing room. ''I can't believe we're here,'' says the 43-year-old actress, also a producer on the film, eyeing the finish line with exhilaration. Just don't assume she's giddy enough to let slip any details about the film's tightly guarded plot. In fact, no one involved in the film will divulge much of anything, coyly responding to a reporter's questions with mischievous smiles or cryptic descriptions like ''It's about what it means to have people last in your life.''
What we do know is that the film picks up four years after the series finale and spans a year in the life of Carrie and the girls, who have ''the same quirks and flaws, but have a little more grown-up elegance,'' according to King. In addition to planning her dream wedding to Big (a.k.a. John James Preston), Carrie has just published her third book (entitled A Single Life) and is ''extremely content,'' says Parker. ''She doesn't overthink things all the time.'' Samantha (Kim Cattrall) has moved to Los Angeles, where she's giving monogamy a whirl with her actor boyfriend Smith (Jason Lewis); Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is struggling with imperfect married life with Steve (David Eigenberg) in Brooklyn; and Charlotte's (Kristin Davis) domestic bliss with Harry (Evan Handler) and their adopted daughter Lily gets blissier when she discovers she's pregnant. Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson joins the quartet as Carrie's bright-eyed assistant, Louise. And you'd better believe they'll all be decked out in eye-popping fashion handpicked by the series' maverick costume designer Patricia Field. ''Isn't it ridiculous?'' Parker squeals, showing off a fresh-from-the-runway, rainbow-hued Alexander McQueen gown hanging in her dressing room. ''To be a paper doll at my age it really is heaven on earth.''
But Parker swears there's more to the film than closets, orgasms, and cosmos. ''It can't be just about wanton lust that's not the truth about these women anymore,'' she explains. ''The top of the movie is like a dollop of cream delicious imagery and scant narrative. It just tells you what we've been doing, and then: boom. It's a recovery operation. The movie goes to a very dark place that we've never done before.'' Could that ''dark place'' be a death? A breakup? Carrie's decision to stop lightening her hair? Flashing a honey, please! smile, Parker says, ''Would I tell you?''
NEXT PAGE: ''When they said, 'We're going to do the movie,' I said, 'Yeeaah. I'll believe it when I see it.'''