SPOILER ALERT! CLICK AWAY NOW IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW ANY PLOT DETAILS FROM THE SEX AND THE CITY MOVIE!
As a Darren Star series on HBO, Sex and the City may have come in tidy half hours, but what those sparkling and fizzy episodes added up to, in spirit, was the great chick flick of our time. The show was that rare thing, a fairy tale you could believe in. Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), the lovelorn single-girl newspaper columnist, and her devoted trio of BFFs randy Samantha (Kim Cattrall), wide-eyed Charlotte (Kristin Davis), and neurotic taskmaster Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) all took the fruits of feminism for granted: independence, equality, the right to sleep around, etc. Yet what they found was a new kind of liberation. High on their pink drinks and showpiece handbags, literally high on their designer heels (and on the prospect of turning the search for a mate into another form of shopping), they embraced the holy right to be cosmetic, acquisitive, and yes! superficial. If Carrie's desire for love had an element that was undeniably...aspirational, what of it? Wasn't that true of Jane Austen's heroines? The glory of Sex and the City is that it turned the cosmopolitan high life of girls who just want to have fun into a new feminine mystique.
The movie version of Sex and the City, written and directed by Michael Patrick King (always the show's savviest writer), is 2 hours and 22 minutes of love, tears, fashion, depression, lavish vacation, good sex, bad sex, and supreme tenderness. It's as long as five series episodes, a big sweet tasty layer cake stuffed with zingers and soul and dirty-down verve (it's not above having one of the girls poop her pants). Given the running time, though, not that much happens, and what does has several shades more gravitas. That's as it should be. We want Sex and the City on the big screen to be true to the show yet to feel more like a movie. And it does. Now that Carrie and her crew have left the bittersweet college of cosmo hedonism, the film treats them, shrewdly, as cynical wised-up fortysomethings facing life on the other side of the adult divide. The movie is about the situations Carrie can't just write off with a quip.
At the end of the series, Carrie had given her heart up to Big (Chris Noth), her Cary-Grant-in-the-age-of-Gordon-Gekko dreamboat financier. So it's a bit of a shock to see the two of them at the start of the movie, happily unmarried, living in separate apartments. I mean, what was that grand finale of ''commitment'' about, anyway? Have no fear: Carrie and Big decide to tie the knot soon enough. They're inspired after they find a Fifth Avenue apartment, described with acute understatement as ''real estate heaven'' (and that's before Big builds Carrie a walk-in closet the size of a small fashion runway).
Of course, Carrie is all set to have a princess wedding. She is featured in a whipped-frosting Vivienne Westwood dress in Vogue (Candice Bergen as her editor: "Forty is the last age a woman can be photographed in a wedding dress without the unintended Diane Arbus subtext"), and the ceremony is scheduled to unfold, in funky old-world style, at the New York Public Library. Then something very Big happens not a cookie-cutter mishap, but a fluky, nervous, all-too-believable screwup that metastasizes into disaster. Did I mention that Miranda and Steve (David Eigenberg), in Brooklyn with their kid, haven't had sex in six months? That Samantha, living in L.A. with hunkalicious Smith (Jason Lewis), is going crazy having sex only with him? Or that Charlotte, toting her adopted daughter around like an accessory, has been rewarded for her good nature by having no problems at all?
A therapeutic trip to Mexico goes on for too long, yet it sets the tone: more melancholy than before, and more romantic. Sarah Jessica Parker is lovely here, and she has the confidence to know that we'll follow her even when she's not throwing off sparks of joy. She makes Carrie's journey lustrous and vivid, and Cynthia Nixon does the same for Miranda, daring to push her perfectionist impatience to acrid new extremes. We keep waiting for these two to forgive their men; that it's so hard for them to do so speaks deeply. If Sex and the City as a movie is good rather than great, that's because it lacks the show's antic, humming New York effervescence. King would have done well to come up with at least one major subplot that didn't have to do with relationships. And though Jennifer Hudson, as Carrie's assistant, has a delicate presence, the character is almost embarrassingly saintly. Why couldn't she, too, pine and chatter with the verve of the city? These are relative quibbles, however, in a movie that taps directly back into the show's primal appeal, which is the sweet, sad, saucy delight of sharing these women's company. B+