Wedding Week: Bigger Than Big: Marriage and Female Bonding in ‘Sex and the City: The Movie’

This is a guest post by Jenny Lapekas.

For those of us who followed the girls on the hit HBO series, Sex and the City: The Movie, directed by Michael Patrick King, was a hotly anticipated film by the time it was released in 2008. We are familiar with Carrie as an avid writer, a New York fashionista, and an independent woman who consistently shies away from marriage. Certainly, Carrie’s disinterest in marriage throughout the show’s run can be interpreted as feminist by audiences. However, Carrie is quickly swept up in pre-matrimonial hysteria such as her designer dress and guest list. Big tells Carrie repeatedly throughout the film, “I want you,” as opposed to the desire for an extravagant wedding, but this sentiment seems to fall on deaf ears. The underlying message–and it’s a feminist one–seems to be this: smart girls don’t fall in love, smart girls love themselves. We meet Carrie as a woman who is attempting to negotiate these two philosophies, and by the end of the film, Carrie successfully marries Big but also prioritizes herself. In fact, her talk of marriage with Big originates from her drive for self-preservation. In reference to their swanky new apartment, she tells Big, “I want it to be…ours,” rather than his.

Carrie marks her territory at “Heaven on Fifth,” as she calls it.

“I wouldn’t mind being married to you. Would you mind being married to me?” Big casually questions as the pair prepare dinner. Carrie requests a “really big closet” in lieu of a diamond ring, a somewhat radical move that breaks with tradition as well as the stereotype that many women are “gold diggers” who equate a man’s commitment to the size of the rock he offers her. Rather, Carrie is financially equipped to find and purchase a diamond herself if she decides she’d like one. Carrie neither supports nor challenges the concept of marriage; throughout six seasons of Sex and the City on HBO, Carrie finds that marriage doesn’t suit her and she’d rather not play the role of wife. She tells Samantha, “There’s no cliché, romantic, kneeling on one knee, it’s just two grown-ups making a decision about spending their lives together.” However, Big does kneel down on one knee to formally propose inside “Heaven on Fifth’s” walk-in closet. In this space he builds, Big is “making room” for his bride, and this act of creation is at once romantic and understated. For Carrie, this gift is paramount in Big demonstrating his commitment to her, but hasn’t he already done so in a multitude of other ways?

Contrary to Charlotte’s engagement party toast, Big remains grounded in reality as Carrie is the one “Carried away.”
When Carrie sternly tells Big, “Wedding before contractor,” as a mother may dictate to a child, Big is unresponsive. Understandably, Big calls Carrie’s wedding preparations a “circus” after learning that their guest list has reached 200. Big is not invested in the wedding but in Carrie, and she fails to see this. When Big jilts her on their would-be wedding day, it signals a downward spiral for Carrie, but also the regenerative process of reexamining who she is without Big while also engaging in some serious girl bonding with Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha. Later, on Valentine’s Day, wallowing in self-regret, Carrie tells Miranda, “I let the wedding get bigger than Big.”
Charlotte is a spokesperson for the joys and functionality of marriage within a heteronormative lifestyle, complete with the nuclear family by the film’s conclusion.

When Steve comes to the couple’s engagement party to talk to Miranda about his infidelity, Miranda tells him, “I changed who I was for you.” When we first meet Miranda on the television series, like Carrie, she is generally opposed to taking on the roles of wife and mother, but Steve’s character changes all that. Steve’s cheating, then, is a thankless move in Miranda’s eyes, a sign that Steve does not really see his wife, her sacrifices, and her dramatic transformation from a single lawyer to a maternal figure. While Miranda is depicted as a somewhat cold, hyper-logical woman, her relationship with Steve and the child they have together cause her to become nurturing and selfless, perhaps shifting the archetype of the modern woman in New York. Fueled by anger, Miranda tells Big at his and Carrie’s engagement party, “You two are crazy to get married. Marriage ruins everything.” Preoccupied with planning for the big day, Carrie is ignorant to the chord this strikes within the already twice-divorced Big. Miranda is then wracked with guilt and believes that she is responsible for Big’s inability to get out of his car and enter the library to marry Carrie.
It’s not marriage that can “ruin everything,” but over-the-top weddings:  rituals that become more significant than the love, support, and sacrifice they symbolize.
When Samantha tells Carrie that she can cancel her honeymoon by claiming that there was a death, Carrie replies, “Wasn’t there?” This response signals to us that Carrie and Big are already united as one and she feels incomplete without him. Cliche? Yes, but we find comfort in the fact that Carrie finds a way to actualize herself before her reunion with Big; the only drawback is that this path to discovery is incited by the absence of romance.

Bringing the gang on her honeymoon is a decidedly feminist move on Carrie’s part; they are her support system and her surrogate lovers while she and Big are separated. Samantha even spoon-feeds her in bed as Carrie’s being “jilted” at the altar effectively infantilizes her while in Mexico. When audiences observe this pathetic and uncomfortable scene, we are confronted with the notion that, along with Miranda, Samantha has transformed into a maternal character while Carrie grieves. This is undoubtedly the closest Samantha will ever come to motherhood. “Will I ever laugh again?” Carrie asks, and of course, it’s when Charlotte shits her pants. The girls are a reliable source of Carrie’s happiness and stability, a reflection of who she is rather than who she wants to be. Unlike the second movie, in which the gang travels to Abu Dhabi, Samantha is more invested in her friend’s wellbeing than having sex with random men.

Samantha happily mothers Carrie at her low point, and even winks at her as she stirs her food.
The bonding that takes place in Mexico on Carrie’s “honeymoon” is essential to her narrative as a “single and fabulous” New York woman who transitions into wifehood. Carrie has finally come to the realization that marriage does not make her any less fabulous, exciting, sexual, or charismatic. Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda collectively serve as an anchor as Carrie sifts through her feelings of abandonment after Big fails to show up on their wedding day. A tipsy Carrie tells her girlfriends, “If I met me now, I wouldn’t know me.”

When Carrie returns from Mexico, she takes on an assistant, and it becomes noticeable that Louise (Jennifer Hudson) is the only black character in the film, a surprising detail given that the setting is New York City. In fact, when searching for a new apartment with her son and nanny, Miranda excitedly says, “Look! White guy with a baby! Wherever he’s going, that’s where we need to be.” Is it me or is this line inextricably offensive? A white man carrying a child is highly symbolic of traditional heteronormative values. Together, these alarming observations render the film both racist and classist. Miranda’s in search of an upscale, and thus white, neighborhood that’s safe for her son.

Although Louise’s character helps Carrie to cope with Big’s temporary absence, the women’s class discrepancy is glaring. For Christmas, Carrie gives Louise an authentic Louis Vuitton purse and smilingly exclaims, “No more rental for you!” as if Louise should be grateful to this altruistic, upper-class white woman who’s had it so tough since her rich boyfriend left; it’s difficult to not interpret this scene as one of charity and self-fulfillment.

The poor colored girl from St. Louis is new to the luxury of owning as opposed to renting.

On Halloween, Charlotte suggests to her adopted Chinese daughter, Lily, that she can be Mulan for Halloween, but Lily instead chooses to be Cinderella. Even at her young age, Lily embraces whiteness as a beauty ideal and is more stimulated by the glamour of ball gowns and being rescued by a handsome prince than battle armor and the spoils of war. Seemingly, the fantastical princess narrative trumps a feminist warrior’s tale, at least for a girl young enough to still believe in “happily ever after.”

The laughably mismatched trick-or-treat crew serves as comic relief amidst scenes of loneliness and heartache.
The theme of forgiveness is consistent throughout the film. In an idle taxi cab, Carrie lectures Miranda about how she must forgive Steve for cheating after Miranda pleads, “You have to forgive me.” Once Carrie and Miranda revive their friendship, Miranda agrees to seek marriage counseling, and she reunites with Steve on Brooklyn Bridge, an obvious metaphor for the human condition as flawed but perpetually negotiable.

The meter is literally running on the pair’s friendship as Miranda’s confrontation of Carrie serves as a reflection of her own personal and marital flaws.

It is only once Carrie has made peace with Miranda that she can move forward to reconcile with Big. “There is no right time to tell me that you ruined my marriage,” she spits at Miranda on Valentine’s Day. In fact, there is no marriage to destroy since Big failed to show up. However, the marriage and harmonizing of the four friends is climactic within the film’s plot while Carrie’s marriage to Big takes place almost as an afterthought, part of the film’s resolution.

Carrie’s narrative is one of distress, respite, and absolution; she discovers the true power of forgiveness and grows tremendously as a person without the help of Big. Her “engagement ring” comes to her in the form of expensive shoes she has bought herself but which Big place lovingly on her feet. While Miranda takes her husband back on a bridge–a very public space, symbolic of paths, connections, and journeys–Carrie and Big find each other in a closet–a private space, symbolic of secrets, baggage, and memories. In this way, we understand that the couple’s relationship and marriage are not for public viewing. Because she has only until 6 o’clock to retrieve her shoes, she is again likened to Cinderella. If she arrives too late, though, her prince remains, and he could care less if she shows up in rags or Prada.
We are given the elusive image of Carrie barefoot, sans designer stilettos.
So, is this a feminist film? Well, I think it highlights the significance of female friendship, but Carrie falling comatose when she’s jilted at the altar seems a bit much. While Carrie hires an assistant to organize her life, romantic love seems to be the ultimate goal. Meanwhile, Carrie bonds with the separated Miranda by telling her that she’s “not alone,” she reaches an understanding with the anti-marriage Samantha, and she celebrates Charlotte’s baby-bliss, even as she mourns her relationship, which has not actually ended. The film has its moments, and Carrie overcomes her obstacles without the direction or approval of any man. However, the film’s bigoted lines and treatment of Louise as a modern-day slave leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Jenny Lapekas has a Master of Arts degree in English, and she teaches Composition at Alvernia University in Pennsylvania. Her areas of scholarship include women’s literature, menstrual literacy, and rape-revenge cinema.


2 Trackbacks