‘Sex’ at midnight with dozens of women

It was fun to see “Sex and the City” last night at midnight at one of the area multiplexes with about 200 hardcore female fans of the HBO series.
I only counted four other men in the audience — who all looked like they had been dragged there by the women in their lives — so it was a little like attending a college sorority slumber party (without the pillow fights).
The anticipation for the movie has built to a feverish pitch this week and you could feel the excitement in the crowd last night when the lights went down and we were reintroduced to New Yorkers Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte four years after they left us.
“Sex and the City” — the series — is a very hard act to follow because it was one of the most sophisticated sitcoms in TV history. It was produced for HBO, so the show had almost no limits when it came to the presentation of the women’s sex lives. There were situations and images in the series that probably would have earned some of the episodes NC-17 ratings if the producers submitted the material to the Motion Picture Association of America.
It was the frankness of the show that hooked me right away — for once sex was presented in a popular entertainment format without network and movie studio euphemisms. The adventures of the oldest woman in the quartet — Samantha — afforded Kim Cattrall the opportunity to score in some of the bawdiest material to be seen outside a burlesque house or porn theater. The early episode in which Samantha dates an aged multi-billionaire who is hooked on Viagra was one of the funniest 30 minutes ever recorded on film.
Critics claimed the show was actually about four gay men in drag — women just wouldn’t talk or act that way, the detractors said. Since everyone knows creator Darren Star and primary writer-director Michael Patrick King are gay, this was the same sort of thinly veiled homophobia Edward Albee faced in 1962 when some people suggested “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” was really about two bickering male couples.
If “Sex and the City” was simply a gay comedy in disguise I don’t think millions of straight women all over the world would find Carrie and her friends to be so endlessly fascinating. Star and King simply tapped into the new post-porn pop culture in which women discuss men in the same sexually frank manner that used to be called “locker-room” talk.
The HBO series did have a huge gay following because of the way that the four women were so open about sex and because there were so many gay men in their urban scene. The show also featured the deluxe production values and frequent excursions into the urban nightworld underground that are elements in so many gay cult films and TV shows (the Showtime series “Queer as Folk” which ran on cable during roughly the same period as “Sex and the City” was strikingly similar in its frank approach to nudity and vulgar langauge and an often surprising mix of comedy and drama).
The TV “Sex and the City” is peerless, but I think most fans of the series will enjoy the movie for what it is — a leisurely and beautifully produced reunion with four women we are very fond of.
The passage of time has shifted the original focus of the material away from the sexual adventures of 30somethings and toward the problems of 40ish women who are trying to find mature domestic arrangements with men without losing the desire for freedom that brought them to New York City.
The movie has more than a few strong scenes, but I missed the frank sex comedy of the early seasons of the HBO production. It is to Kim Cattrall’s credit that she scores some huge laughs despite the fact that Samantha has been largely neutered by the improbable continuation of her relationship with the much younger actor played by Jason Lewis.
Samantha spends a good portion of the film tending to the business affairs of the actor and doesn’t get the chance to cut loose the way she did on the first five seasons of the TV show.
“Sex and the City” was created to be consumed in tasty 30-minute portions on TV, so the expansion to a two-hour-and-20-minute feature film running time changes the whole set-up we grew used to on HBO.
Still, the movie is consistently charming and amusing and what a blast it is to see a contemporary Hollywood film focus on the lives of four women.