Ultimate Chick Flick (Theatrical Releases)

May 30, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

Looking at the few films opening in theaters this weekend, I can affirm that it's a good time to go to the multiplexes for horror fans and devotees of Sex and the City. Everyone else might do better staying home. Big summer movies often have the capacity to disappoint. 2007 opened with three consecutive duds, all of which made a ton of money (Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, Pirates of the Caribbean 3). So far in 2008, with the notable exception of Iron Man, things haven't been any better.

My Pick of the Week comes with a caveat: you have to like horror films. I don't mean the dumbed-down remakes of Asian ghost stories. I'm talking about hard-core horror - the kind that creeps you out and deflates you. The kind that generates plenty of suspense but in which everyone doesn't live happily ever after. The kind where foreboding takes precedence over blood. The Strangers is that kind of movie. It's not a feel-good experience. It's horror at its most basic – stuff the likes of which has happened in the real world and which makes one doubt the basic goodness of humanity. If you consider yourself to be a horror fan, you owe it to yourself to give The Strangers a shot.

It goes without saying that most of the 6 million die-hard aficionados of a defunct HBO TV show will be in multiplexes this weekend for an update on Carrie and friends. Sex and the City is made for fans and only for fans. If all 6 million of those viewers see the movie, they will contribute about $50 million to its box office gross. The rest of the populace won't add much (except for those significant others who are dragged kicking and screaming to it). Is that good enough to knock off Dr. Jones? Possibly. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull may have limited staying power. Everyone wanted to see it, and they did so last weekend. Now, how many will go back for a second or third trip? This doesn't seem like a movie to compel viewers back time and time again. So I'm going to choose Sex and the City as this weekend's Box Office Champion. (There is an alternate possibility. Teenage boys, unhappy with no new option this week, could return for another shot at Indiana Jones IV. This could tilt the balance. Then again, with so many of their moms going to the movies, the boys might prefer to hang out at the mall instead.)

What's interesting about Sex and the City is not its TV roots, but the gender gap. I don't know any straight men who are interested in seeing this. Those who are planning to go are doing so because their wives/girlfriends expect their companionship. (For the record, I saw this with my wife. She's not a big SatC fan, although she owns the first two seasons on DVD, and was unimpressed by the movie.) It's rare that Hollywood targets a film at this demographic. The average big summer blockbuster is geared toward teenage boys and/or families. We have seen the power that tween and teen girls can exert upon occasion, but this is the first time we'll see whether women ages 20-60 can have the same kind of impact. The question remains whether a majority of the SatC fans will go to theaters to see the film or whether a significant portion of them will wait a few months for the DVD release. The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull brought a lot of nostalgic DVD-only watchers into multiplexes. Will SatC be able to do the same?

It will be fascinating to see how Sex and the City fares this weekend. If it tops Indy, it will be one-and-done, but can it get that far? This is unquestionably an "event movie," but how big will the event be? Even if Sex and the City becomes phenomenally successful, I don't foresee an upsurge in chick flicks geared to a mature audience. That's a genre that has failed repeatedly in the past. This is a referendum only on Sex and the City. Reading anything more into it would be a mistake.

By the way, my negative review should be taken for what it is: the opinion of a non-believer. I am a straight male, which automatically puts me at a disadvantage where this movie is concerned. I am not ignorant of the series or the characters, having seen a smattering of episodes over the years, but I have no deep love for Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, or Charlotte. Fans will look at this film much differently than bystanders like me (I know this from personal experience with other kinds of fandom). It would be dishonest for me to write from a perspective other than the one in which I find myself. The Star Trek: The Motion Picture comparison I use in my review is appropriate. Other than Kim Cattrall, Star Trek and Sex and the City may seem to have little in common, but there are similar dynamics in the fan base and how it reacts to a movie that fails to be inclusive of those without a vested interest.