It might seem odd, holding the press conference for one of the summer’s most highly anticipated blockbusters in the shoe department of New York’s Bergdorf Goodman. But where better to promote Sex and the City 2, which opens today, than here, in the fashion capital of the world, surrounded by the handsome, high-priced high heels so near and dear to Carrie Bradshaw’s heart?
Bradshaw, of course, is the fictional, fashion-crazed Upper East Sider, based loosely on creator Candace Bushnell and played by Sarah Jessica Parker, whose romantic misadventures were chronicled, down to the most intimate details, in 2008’s Sex and the City.
Two years ago, some wondered whether a movie inspired by the popular HBO series about four upwardly mobile Manhattanites – women, no less! – could compete with the boys of summer. Their doubts were quickly laid to rest: Sex earned more than $400 million worldwide, outgrossing action-adventure tentpoles like The Incredible Hulk and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.
Yet for Parker, writer-director Michael Patrick King and co-stars Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis and Cynthia Nixon, the movie that made production of Sex and the City 2 such a no-brainer – and sent rival studios scrambling for scripts geared toward women – was significant more for its message than for its numbers.
“The most powerful thing for me is that we’ve encouraged women to change the way they feel about being single, having cancer, being deserted and being lonely,” says Cattrall, 53, whose sex-mad Samantha fights the onset of menopause in City 2. “In this era of post-feminism, I think we’ve helped define what it is to be successful, smart and also feminine.”
“These four women are so different, but they love each other and they’re not shy about offering their opinions,” adds Nixon, 44. “I think we’re a feminist show, but being a feminist show doesn’t mean you have to have a career, or you have to not be married. With these women, we see a whole range of what’s available, and what direction you might want to take your life in.”
In City 2, Carrie – now married to the formerly flighty Mr. Big (Chris Noth) – finds herself frustrated by the constraints of domesticity. Together with her gal pals, she clears her head with a trip to Abu Dhabi, where she (and especially Samantha) run afoul of a culture that requires women to keep their bodies and their sexuality well-wrapped.
“Where Carrie finds herself now is asking about the environment in which she lives,” says Parker, 45. “A big theme of the movie for all our characters is tradition – why do we run toward it, why do we push it away, and why do we so willingly commit ourselves to conventions like the institution of marriage.
“We find ourselves squirming and asking questions. How do we redefine tradition for ourselves, and how do our friends redefine it for themselves. Do they even want to? And where better to ask these questions than the Middle East?”
And how better than with a $10 million wardrobe budget, enabling Parker to tear through 41 different outfits during the latest phase of Carrie’s ongoing journey of self-discovery? King admits he spared no expense City 2, which might feature the most decadent wedding celebration in the history of cinema. (Liza Minnelli is the lucky couple’s musical entertainment.) Yet he doesn’t believe the movie, or its characters, should reflect America’s increasing economic uncertainty, a downer if ever there was one.
"My inspiration for the first movie was the girls reuniting, and my inspiration for this movie was the audience for the first movie," he says. "When I would see the audience showing up, dressed and having cocktails before, I knew that when we did the sequel, I wanted it to be a continuation of the party for the audience.
"Like in the Great Depression, I thought Hollywood should take people on a big vacation which they really couldn’t afford. So I thought – big party, big extravagant vacation. I didn’t think it was my job to have Carrie Bradshaw sell apples under the 59th Street Bridge."
Besides providing a picturesque backdrop for the fab four’s latest misadventures, the vacation fostered an even greater unity among the movie’s cast and crew, who celebrated Thanksgiving together in Morocco, the country that doubled for Abu Dhabi. (Officials in Abu Dhabi reportedly balked at the idea of welcoming the Sex brigade into their backyard.)
"That’s what’s wonderful about going away – the fact that we and the girls get to go to a deeper level together,’’ says Davis, 45.
"I really, really love how these women love each other,’’ adds Parker. “And I love how decent and honorable they are toward one another. Their DNA is so radically different from one to the next and yet they have this incomparable friendship. It’s really inspiring to me and it changes the way I think about my friendships – the way I look at friends, the way I respond to friends’ choices."