The question has been nagging at me for some weeks: six years later, is there any sort of value to be had in another white male critic lambasting the first Sex and the City movie? The good news, then, is that I'm not entirely inclined to do that. Not all of it, anyway. The trick, I find, is to muscle through the utterly foul first hour to get at all the stuff that's actually kind of smart, sensitive to its characters, and at least slightly willing to interrogate the franchise's status to non-fans as the thing that sold a grim late-capitalist hallucination of rampant consumerism in a bluntly fictive version of New York. The other trick is to have one's first real engagement with that franchise having been the rather vile 2010 feature Sex and the City 2, compared to which just about anything would seem measured and intelligent.

Set three years after the conclusion of the 6-season HBO Zeitgeist hit of the same name, Sex and the City tells of the travails that happen to four beloved archetypes of all women who live privileged lives in a white urban enclave, after they think they've all found their happily ever after. Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), the narcissist with abysmal taste in expensive clothes (first thing in the movie: Carrie walking by a gaggle of teens who are all in awe of her dress, dominated by a hideous fucking crepe flower the size of a dinner plate that's perched on her right shoulder like a badly conjoined head), is just about to move in her hunky millionaire boyfriend John James Preston AKA "Mr. Big" (Chris Noth); brittle, feelingless lawyer Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is barely tolerating life in Brooklyn with her husband Steve (David Eigenberg) and son Brady (Joseph Pupo); mousy doormat Charlotte (Kristin Davis) is so happily married to Harry (Evan Handler) and so happy to have just adopted a daughter, that the film can't even come up with a decent plotline for her. Samantha Jones (Kim Catrall), the voracious sex addict and generally awesome deliverer of filthy quips and the only one of the four who doesn't threaten to plunge me into a rage of woman-hating Marxism, is living in Los Angeles with Smith Jerrod (Jason Lewis), and starting to feel sad about all the sex she's not having. They're all four about to be pressed back together as close as close can be, thanks to Carrie's out-of-character impending nuptials to Big; so out-of-character, in fact, that he starts to panic, and she freaks out, and they split up, and this triggers a range of difficulties in all their lives.

Eventually, that happens, anyways. First, we have the wedding planning, and it is horrible, rancid, consumer porn bullshit. I tried to prepare myself: I tried to figure out what, besides gender, makes something like James Bond "okay" and Sex in the City "not okay", and was all prepared to grapple with that question, but really, fuck it. Sex and the City's depiction of attaining things is unholy, particularly with the film coming out right at the tipping point of the world economy into disarray, and the lifestyle of Carrie & company turned into something not just distasteful, but actively repellent. For very long stretches, it doesn't seem as though the film is able to communicate any other thought than "buying things makes you happier and better"; no matter how many anonymous brown people James Bond guns down, it doesn't offend my sense of basic decency nearly as much.

But after an hour of this, something magical happens: it all just sort of melts away, and in its second hour, Sex and the City turns into a comfortable, lived-in depiction of four female friends who know each other well trying to help everybody else keep it together during a series of emotional crises. This is not without its swerves into idiotic comedy: it is based on a sitcom, and there's a consistent regression towards that mean in the way the script by director Michael Patrick King (a regular contributor to the series as both writer and director) builds its jokes and steps through all of its character arcs according to nice, neat principles of episodic dramaturgy. It is not possible, that is to say, to mistake Sex and the City for elegant cinematic storytelling: even setting aside that the first two-fifths of its running time is given over to godawful non-drama (and setting aside, also, the fact that it's two and a half fucking hours long, with enough content to stretch itself out to 90 minutes). It has lumps, and it has painfully obvious punchlines, and it has an almost comically misjudged sense of pacing, with a moment at the 110 minute mark that clearly seems to be cuing up the last spate of reconciliations until- nope! let's grind another half-hour out of this sucker.

What it also has, though, are four actors who are not all equally gifted, to be nice about it, but whose comfort level in the skin of their characters is enough that even with my unfamiliarity towards the series (and hostility to the little bit I knew of it), the warmth of the relationships between the four women feels alive and real and quite inveigling. It's downright pleasant to watch them interact with and support each other, even though, by all logical rights, it doesn't really make sense that Charlotte would want to hang around these people, and it makes even less sense that anybody in the whole world would want to hang around Miranda.

The film's human-level coziness clearly marks it out as a simple bit of fan-pandering, but done with enough affection towards those fans that it's not impenetrably insular. Mind you, this coziness doesn't gel at all well with the film's need to be cinematic: it has an acute awareness that justifying the leap from the little screen to the big screen requires a kind of Event! sized storytelling to match (in which respect it certainly bests the stubbornly low stakes of The X-Files: I Want to Believe, from later in the same summer), and that Event! focus is the source of many of the film's problems. It keeps interrupting the characters for enormous drama, life-changing stakes, and so on, all of it feeling bloated and unnecessary, and all of it should with stiff ineffectivness by King and cinematographer John Thomas, another veteran of the show, who between them have very little sense of how to do anything with the visuals but make them look large and flat.

In short: the film's strengths are those of television, not of film; it doesn't look like a film; and yet here it is, a film. The odd impulse to make things into movies that are perfectly well-suited to television neither started nor ended here, of course (did we not just find ourselves examining The Simpsons Movie?), and at least Sex and the City tries to go big. It simply doesn't succeed. Intimacy is the right fit for this material, and when it allows itself to be intimate, it's charming in its way; it would, undoubtedly, have been better for this never to have pretended it was a movie at all. But that is not the thinking of Hollywood accounting, which prefers above all and especially in the 21st Century, to use established brands to make money off of established fanbases. And if there's one thing that Sex and the City can teach us, it's the almighty importance of brand names.

Elsewhere in American cinema in 2008
-Pixar's WALLΒ·E makes the fate of a dirty robot the stuff of the greatest soul-stirring drama
-Iron Man and The Dark Knight create the only two flavors that future superhero movies will ever come in for the rest of time
-Sensitive indie poet of natural spaces David Gordon Green reinvents himself as a bro-com auteur with the pot epic Pineapple Express

Elsewhere in world cinema in 2008
-The unbelievably bleak and distressing British/Irish political drama Hunger makes director Steve McQueen and star Michael Fassbender into major artists overnight
-Pascal Laugier's Martyrs instantly becomes one of the most talked-about examples of the French extreme horror scene
-Israeli director Ari Folman produces the unclassifiable animated docu-biography Waltz with Bashir