The Magazine

Abu Dhabi Do

A movie where ‘I Am Woman’ is sung without irony.

Jun 7, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 36 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
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Sex and the City 2

Abu Dhabi Do

Directed by Michael Patrick King

In 1985, a journalist named Alex Heard and a Capitol Hill staffer named Scott Richardson coined the invaluable term “hathos” to describe the cringe-inducing feeling generated by celebrity self-congratulation and sentimental pandering. In a 1987 Washington Post piece, Heard offered this example: “Hearing the audience applaud when Dr. Joyce Brothers told Merv Griffin that, aside from being a brilliant comedienne, Charo is a ‘genius on the classical guitar’ filled me with hathos.”

The episode of the Merv Griffin Show that so inspired Heard a quarter-century ago has now been supplanted in the annals of hathos by the epic new cinematic document named Sex and the City 2. One hesitates to call this thing a “movie,” as that might suggest it has characters that behave with any consistency from scene to scene and that there is something that even nominally passes for a plot. In fact, its unimaginable running time of two hours and 27 minutes indicates that writer-director Michael Patrick King has modeled his picture not on Sex and the City’s snappy 27-minute television episodes but rather on the endless Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethons of yore.

As in those supreme hathosfests, celebs pop in and out of this movie to show the flag and offer their support—a Penelope Cruz here, a Miley Cyrus there—while the male actors exist primarily to take calls from their wives like the obscure performers who once manned telethon phones.

This is a film that begins with four actresses ranging in age from 45 to 55 trying to pass for 25. It then segues into a gay wedding scene with a 30-man chorus singing “If Ever I Would Leave You” from Camelot. Dissolve to: a reception in which Liza Minnelli—her face looking as though it were Silly Putty that had been smooshed onto her skull—warbles Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” in a rendition so agonizingly out of key that it makes one long for the version featuring CGI-created rodents in last year’s Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.

There are so many insulting gay jokes in this movie, from beginning to end, that I half-expected someone from ACT-UP to appear in my theater and throw blood on the screen. But of course, gay jokes have become a key element in 21st-century hathos: the way Sammy Davis Jr.’s conversion to Judaism in the mid-’50s was somehow a simultaneous indicator in its day of Judaism’s coolness, and an indication that Judaism’s coolness was reaching its endpoint. Soon homosexuals will have to turn straight to be even the least bit transgressive.

Eventually we travel with Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha—the New York quartet we have followed through six seasons of the never-less-than-interesting HBO sitcom, then through one terrible but hugely successful movie, and now this 147-minute celluloid spill that makes Showgirls look like Schindler’s List—to Abu Dhabi for an all-expenses-paid vacation that King wants us to think our girls really need. It seems that being a zillionaire happily married successful writer is hard for Carrie; being a zillionaire happily married mother of two is hard for Charlotte; being a rich lawyer with a boss who holds his hand up when she talks is hard on Miranda; and Samantha has hot flashes. The ladies end up sucking down their trademark girlie drinks in a karaoke bar in Abu Dhabi before taking the stage to sing Helen Reddy’s 1972 pseudo-anthem, “I Am Woman.” 

“I am strong, I am invincible,” they warble, while belly dancers gyrate and Arab women pump their fists gratefully to these words of their deliverance from chattelhood by one of the worst pop songs ever written. Later, women wearing burqas uncover themselves to reveal the latest New York fashions. “Louis Vuitton!” Carrie squeals. 

No, this isn’t mere hathos. The Sex and the City quartet are the Four Horsewomen of the Hathocalypse. Does that seem like a labored coinage? It’s nothing next to King’s horrendous screenplay, which is filled with awful puns intended to spice up next week’s book club. Carrie has written a memoir of her first year of marriage entitled I Do, Do I? A pretty Irish nanny is dubbed “Erin Go Braless.” Carrie tells her husband, who’s complaining that there’s no food in the house, “You knew when you married me I was more Coco Chanel than Coq au Vin.” When one of the ladies isn’t facing up to a marital problem, the others announce they are performing an “inter-friend-tion.” An Arab potentate is described as “one chic sheikh.” A tent in the desert is dubbed “Bedouin Bath and Beyond.”

And then there are the quips. Charlotte’s four-year-old daughter asks whether Carrie is going to be a princess in the desert like Jasmine from the Disney movie Aladdin. “Yes, sweetie, just like Jasmine, only with cocktails!” Carrie says, in a piece of har-har-har! live-live-live! Auntie Mame-style dialogue that you could imagine Totie Fields telling Ed McMahon at 3:30 in the morning during one of Jerry Lewis’s Percodan breaks. After Carrie and her husband spend a night in a hotel watching It Happened One Night, he buys a flat-screen TV for their bedroom so they can continue to enjoy old black-and-white movies together.

 “The key word is old,” she complains and says that sure, she enjoyed it, but only because “it only happened one night!”

As for the foursome’s trip to the Middle East, suffice it to say all of them save Miranda do ridiculous, embarrassing, and idiotic things that imperil their safety and their lives, and squeal like nine-year-olds at a sleepover whenever they see anything expensive. When the first Sex and the City movie opened in 2008, I was astonished to discover just how powerfully its melancholy portrait of how the quartet had actually failed to find the happily-ever-after promised them in the final television episode resonated with so many women.

I suppose it’s possible that the childish, petulant, and dumb behavior they exhibit in this astoundingly vapid sequel will resonate as well, and that karaoke machines across the land will resound anew with the strains of “I Am Woman.” Only in this case, the appropriate lyric would be “I am hathos. Hear me bore.”

John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, is The Weekly Standard’s movie critic.

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