Film I know. Part of me is embarrassed that a stereotypically girlie cliché was the prompt for one of my most meaningful cinema-going experiences. But it’s the same part of me that’s internalised society’s misogynistic messages about the unimportance of female-centric stories, so let’s keep going.
Before we get to the movie, though, a quick sidebar about the show. I get why some people hate it: not just the weird fashion, terrible puns, and Carrie Bradshaw’s faux profundities (“I couldn't help but wonder: can you get to the future if your past is present?”), but the really inexcusable stuff. The uncritical portrayal of at least one emotionally abusive relationship, the lack of women of colour as anything other than servers or stereotypes, and the contempt for bisexuality, for starters. Plus there’s a scene where Carrie says that journalism pays well WHICH IS A LIE. But Sex and the City was more than just the female Entourage. It was revolutionary.
It was the first time we’d seen women on the small screen speak so frankly about sex. And while sometimes it might’ve been TMI, I think we all learned a few things. For a show that’s supposedly so superficial, it also debated class, the wage gap, the ethics of sex work and the “pinkwashing” of breast cancer products, among other topics feminists still talk about. Most of all, though, it portrayed female friendship as what it is: one of life’s most essential coping mechanisms.
At the end of season six, Miranda and Steve were happy, Charlotte was getting a baby, Samantha had survived cancer, Carrie and Big were together, and everything was all wrapped up. So when I heard there was going to be a movie spin-off, I decided to pretend it didn’t exist. Then in 2008, I was floundering in my attempts to build a career as a freelance writer (unlike Carrie, no one wanted to pay me a month’s rent for one column a week) and my dad generously offered to pay for me to visit him in Australia. Excited at the prospects of sunshine and not paying board, I went to stay with him and his (then) wife for ten weeks, which is too long to stay with anyone, it turns out. There was tension between all three of us for all sorts of reasons, leading to sniping and shouting and hurt feelings.
One Friday, I took the train into Perth city centre and there, outside a small cinema, I saw an ad for the Sex and the City movie. Instead of being depressed that it existed, now it felt like a gift: four friendly faces who could make me feel at home. The opening day was in a couple of weeks, so I decided to come back then. From what I could see, the cinema was a dump, with a dark street level entrance leading to a badly-lit staircase and a set of swinging doors beyond. But I’d take what I could get.
Two weeks later, I treated myself to a burger and milkshake before heading to the cinema. Going up the dank staircase, I braced myself for grottiness, but when I pushed through the doors, it was more like faded glamour, with art deco details and the kind of small concessions stand you’d see in an old movie. There was even a side table where you could help yourself to tea or coffee –just make a 20c donation, we trust you. The screening room was beautiful: it was obviously once a theatre, with an ornate roof and different levels, and it had kept its velvet padded chairs. I sat down and studied the mouldings, finding it hard to believe I’d stumbled onto this weird little gem.
It was about half full, which is a good amount: large enough to feel like a crowd, small enough that your handbag can have its own seat. There were maybe three men in the audience, and an excited buzz went through the crowd as the lights went down. The grey-haired woman three seats down and I grinned at each other.
When you go to the cinema on your own, there are some screenings where you feel alone (and sometimes that’s exactly what you want: I was fine not bonding with the Larry David lookalikes at Whatever Works). At Sex and the City, I was among friends. I don’t know if we really all “woo”-ed when the title came up and clapped when the film ended, but it feels like we did. I know we laughed a lot, and I don’t think I was the only one who cried when Charlotte attacked Big with her bouquet because she loves Carrie so much and was fed up of him hurting her. As a film, it was unnecessary, it was too broad, and the Big and Carrie storyline was disappointing. But it wasn’t terrible. It was fun to spend time with these women again, in the company of other women.
In a few days, I’d get news that would send me into a months-long anxiety spiral and by Christmas I’d have nerve pain so bad I couldn’t sleep. But watching Sex and the City, I didn’t know that yet. And there, in that weird, splendorous cinema, for a couple of hours, for the first time in months, I felt optimistic. I felt part of something. I felt happy.
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