Sex and the City, Penelope

Reviews: bad TV, charming fantasy

Reviews by Jason Pirodsky

An interminable, sometimes excruciating experience, Michael Patrick King´s Sex and the City represents what happens when a 30-minute TV show is blown up into a 150-minute “event”. Of course, I´m not exactly the target demographic here, nor am I the right person to write this review; I´ve never seen an episode of the popular HBO series (and going by the movie, I never will). I think it´s safe to say that if you´re a fan of the show, you´ll enjoy the film; the audience I was with, a sold-out advance screening that was at least 95% female, seemed to eat it up, even when the film veered into soft-core porn and scatological humor. But to say I didn´t like Sex and the City is an understatement; I loathed the experience, not so much for the film itself, which was bad enough, but for the society it represented: consumerist, superficial, self-indulgent, empty-headed, and all-too-horrifyingly real.

Sex and the City
Rating: Sex and the City, PenelopeSex and the City, PenelopeSex and the City, PenelopeSex and the City, Penelope

Directed by Michael Patrick King. Starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon, Chris Noth, Candace Bergen, Jennifer Hudson, David Eigenberg, Evan Handler, Jason Lewis, Mario Cantone, Lynn Cohen, Willie Garson, Joanna Gleason. Written by King, from characters created by Candace Bushnell.

Sex and the City, Penelope Showtimes
Sex and the City, Penelope IMDb link

For the uninitiated: Sex and the City follows a quartet of women who live and work in New York City. At the outset of the film, Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) is about to marry her long-time affair ‘Mr. Big´ (Chris Noth); Charlotte York (Kristin Davis) is happily married with an adopted child that serves as an ethnic prop; Miranda Hobbs (Cynthia Nixon) is unhappily married to Steve Brady (David Eigenberg); and sexaholic Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall) has moved to California with actor-boyfriend Smith Jerrod (Jason Lewis). By the end of the movie, one of these things has changed; the rest is all much ado about nothing, propagated by lying, honesty, and miscommunication. I say these characters work in New York, but the only time we see them working is in a single workplace setting with Carrie, and even then, she´s told she´ll be the subject of an article rather than the author of it. Otherwise, the quartet seems to do nothing at all, nor do the male characters in the film. The only time work is mentioned is when it´s interrupting the characters´ sex lives (“honey, I have to wake up at six tomorrow!”)

What we´re left with is situational comedy and endless, mindless chitchat, and if this were a social satire I´d be calling it brilliant right about now. But it´s not, and it ceaselessly indulges these characters as they ceaselessly indulge themselves with parade of fashion and jewelry and Starbucks coffee. I hated them, and I couldn´t stand to listen to their conversations; they´re the obnoxious group of omigod 80´s Valley Girls, all grown up, whom everyone in the restaurant can hear babbling away without caring who can hear them babbling. They´re the most blissfully selfish characters I´ve ever seen in a motion picture. Louis Vuitton and other designer labels are mentioned more often than the names of their own children. It´s sickening.

This isn´t a TV show writ large into a big cinematic experience, or even 5 episodes of the TV show strung together. It´s a single TV show with four single plotlines stretched out across two-and-a-half hours. Truth be told, as much as I hated what was on the screen I was fine after an hour; it was, at the very least, ‘entertaining´. Shortly after that I was checking my watch every 5 or 10 minutes, not knowing the runtime and watching in horror as it just went on and on and on. Overall production is polished but very, very, TV, filled with cutaways and everything filmed in establishing shots, and after awhile it becomes claustrophobic. This is TV writer/director King´s first foray into cinemas and it shows in abundance. And the fashion – it´s hideous!

Click here for a video review from “Reel Geezers” Marcia Nasatir and Lorenzo Semple, Jr., who sum up the film from the perspective of those outside the target audience better than I can.


Rating: Sex and the City, PenelopeSex and the City, PenelopeSex and the City, PenelopeSex and the City, Penelope

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Directed by Mark Palansky. Starring Christina Ricci, James McAvoy, Catherine O’Hara, Reese Witherspoon, Peter Dinklage, Richard E. Grant, Simon Woods, Ronni Ancona, Jason Thornton. Written by Leslie Caveny.

Sex and the City, Penelope Showtimes
Sex and the City, Penelope IMDb link

A charming little modern-day fairy tale, Mark Palansky´s Penelope won´t win over any cynics but becomes an agreeably old-fashioned fantasy with modern-day sensibilities. Poor Penelope (Christina Ricci): due to an age-old curse that was thought broken, she´s born with the face of a pig (well, not the whole face, but the nose at least.) Dad (Richard E. Grant) and Mom (Catherine O´Hara) fake her death and keep her locked up at home until she reaches a marriageable age; then, the curse can be broken when she finds love with ‘one of her own kind´, i.e., a snobbish rich fellow from high society. Only problem: each prospective husband flees upon site of Penelope, occasionally exiting through a second-story glass window. Enter Max Campion (James McAvoy), a down-and-out gambler recruited to get photo evidence of the titular heroine. But might he fall in love with the pig-nosed Penelope? Will the curse be broken?

Palansky´s feature debut is light-hearted fare, but has a certain charm and whimsy that is missing from most modern fantasies. Leads are well-cast and likable (Ricci with a snout is still enchanting…or am I developing a fetish?), as are the parents, who serve mostly as comic relief but avoid becoming caricatures. Production is fast-paced and well-designed, the London-ish setting given a hue of Tim Burton-quirkiness; film sat on the shelf for two years but was worth the wait. Reese Witherspoon, who co-produced, shows up late in the film in a rather insubstantial extended-cameo.


Also opening: the Czech comedy František je děvkař (showtimes), from director Jan Prušinovský, starring Josef Polášek, Ela Lehotská, Martin Pechlát, Petra Nesvačilová, Zdena Hadrbolcová, Leoš Noha, Arnošt Goldflam, Petr Čtvrtníček, Marika Procházková. Screening in Czech; an English-subtitled print can be found at Village Cinemas Andel’s Gold Class.

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