By STEVE PERSALL
Times Film Critic
Here's another measure of how drastically the recession has affected American culture: Sex and the City isn't fun anymore.
It used to be a vicarious pleasure watching Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda change men nearly as often as fashion statements, downing exotic cocktails, sexily conspiring and generally living out millions of impossible dreams.
Now, while fans struggle to break even, Sex and the City 2 rubs their noses in the fantasy, at eight bucks a pop.
Oh, but the glamorous ladies feel their pain.
That pesky economic downturn prevented Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) from selling her spacious apartment after marrying Mr. Big, and they had to downsize from a penthouse view to (shudder) a lower floor. Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) isn't sure her high-paying job as a lawyer is right for her. Charlotte (Kristin Davis) thinks the nanny paid nicely to raise her kids is seducing her husband. Extravagant Samantha's (Kim Cattrall) only problem is menopause, which she'd probably blame on the unemployment rate.
And you thought you had financial issues.
Yes, this is a great time for escapism at the movies. But there's a point at which escapism throws what we're trying to forget back in our faces. Sex and the City 2 goes out of its way to address real issues in frivolous, even insulting ways — not only the inappropriately conspicuous consumption but gay marriage and Muslim cultural restrictions on women.
Being politically incorrect is fine; doing it so brazenly incorrect isn't.
You can feel the movie losing Middle America early, when the gals' pals Anthony (Mario Cantone) and Stanford (Willie Garson) share a white-toned Connecticut same-sex wedding complete with gay men's chorus and swans. "Could this wedding get any gayer?" someone asks. Yes it can. Liza Minnelli pokes through the crystal beaded curtain to officiate and belt out Beyoncé's Single Ladies.
It's a peppy get-used-to-it scene until Stanford reveals he will allow his spouse to cheat — but only in the 45 states that don't recognize gay marriages. The cornerstone lies of the opposition are that gays are promiscuous and don't respect the marriage institution.
Why give those ideas credence here? It makes those 45 states appear right.
Then writer-director Michael Patrick King begins work on alienating another side of the world. Samantha is invited to Abu Dhabi (actually Morocco) for a job interview with a sheikh and takes her friends along for a free week of palatial digs, personal butlers and separate luxury cars. They could use the break, you know.
These lovely women — although Nixon under stress resembles Jessica Tandy — become ugly Americans, expecting centuries-old traditions about women to change simply because they show some skin and sing I Am Woman in a karaoke club.
Samantha gets arrested for public indecency and I can't say I blame the authorities. Sorry, but when in Rome or Abu Dhabi (or Morocco), you do as the locals do, especially in these times. Sex and the City 2 is primed for griping by Muslim advocacy groups, or anyone with a conscience.
But it'll all work out, as it always does for Carrie and her posse. Domestic problems will be solved with a vintage Rolex and black diamond ring as "just because" gifts, or a convenient truth, a job offer or a tryst on the beach under exploding fireworks. Just like things always work out for everyone else.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs. tampabay.com/movies.