Eating fries under a burqa: Devouring (and defending) ‘Sex and the City 2’

Oh, how quickly we’ve turned on Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha.

The stars of “Sex and the City 2” had a good run, really. I’m surprised it’s taken critics and the general public as long as it has to really tear into them. “Sexaholic sluts,” “morons,” “materialistic whores.” Shall I go on? “Grotesque,” “greedy,” “equine,” in reference, I’ll remind you, to women who look like this:

Both men and women, critics and noncritics, have pounced on this latest installment of the “Sex and the City” franchise, and I’d heard lots of negative reaction before I walked into 147 minutes of what, to me, seemed like life as usual for the sexually charged, assertive and financially successful women whose worlds we’ve watched evolve over the past 12 years. I enjoyed the movie. Hell, I even liked it.

We’ve watched them fuck and fuck up, get married and divorced, have and adopt children, climb up the corporate and literary ladders and, yes, deal with growing older. I could write this entire post about how hypocritical society, especially Hollywood, is of powerful, well-to-do women once they hit a certain age, but Emily Nussbaum does a great job in this article in New York magazine as does my fellow Aidan girl Heidi Kurpiela over on While My Boyfriend Was Sleeping.

The point: These women have never been middle-class Midwesterners struggling to pay their bills and settle down. However, as they obsessed over fashion and other trivial “crises,” they’ve dealt with problems that are very real and relevant to women, no matter if you’re a wealthy stay-at-home mom, a writer with book deals, a high-profile lawyer or publicist. And to the people who have complained about the way Middle Eastern culture and women in Abu Dhabi are portrayed: The way the characters reacted to the blatant oppression of women in the Middle East is exactly how most of us would react when seeing it in person for the first time.

All that aside, I’m here to talk about the food.

These gals don’t cook, but all of them love to eat.

Cooking has never been a big part of the show. I think it was just another way for the central characters to buck all domestic tasks traditionally associated with women. (Even with all the talk of clothes in the series, they never do laundry.)

But I love how much they love food. In every episode or movie, there is at least one, if not several, turning points or poignant moments that take place as the women gather around a table, two of them on each side, spilling the beans on infertility, a failed love, a new job or long-kept secret. It’s never a home-cooked meal, but that’s OK. Food brings them together.

In this movie, Big and Carrie fight over whether to eat out or order something in. (Money, once again, is never an issue. Even Miranda and Charlotte have enough money to hire someone to cook for them and their families.) Reservations at a fancy restaurant represent the “sparkle” that Carrie is desperately seeking in their marriage. But rather than take her out for their anniversary, Big, who wooed her in the beginning with his home cooking (kitchen role reversal, FTW!), makes her osso bucco at home (and gives her a television so he can watch “Deadliest Catch” in bed. See why I always liked Aidan?).

Charlotte hits the breaking point with her two kids as she tries to finish a batch of homemade cupcakes, a national food trend that “Sex and the City” is often credited with helping launch. (Tourists still flock to Magnolia Bakery where Carrie and Miranda, were filmed eating cupcakes in this episode from 2000.)

I love the irony of Samantha’s attempts to reverse the effects of aging on her body. Inspired by Suzanne Somers’s controversial book, she takes dozens of vitamins and hormones to combat any physical signs of getting older, which is exactly the criticism heaped upon her as “the old one.” Everyone complains that she’s promiscuous (going so far as to call her a prostitute, even), but no one talks about how crazy it is that she goes to such lengths to reverse the aging process (stopping short, she’s makes it very clear in the movie, of having surgery). When customs officials take away her medicine, she’s forced to take the natural route, eating (and smearing on her body) copious amounts of yams and chickpeas, even though in real life, they contain so little estrogen that they wouldn’t have much effect.

(I know I wasn’t the only one who caught the Jack LaLanne commercial that was on the TV when Carrie woke up in the middle of the night. “Drink yourself healthy with vitamins,” says the juice master who never ages.)

Once the girls go to Abu Dhabi, the food fun really sets in. Arabic Pringles, dates, strange-tasting coffee, an over-the-top buffet in the dessert, a breakfast spread that would feed an entire hotel and some magical dish at Aidan’s hotel that is the perfect excuse for Carrie to meet up with her old fling.

There’s a touching moment late one night in the hotel when Carrie’s butler (yes, the movie is *that* extravagant) insists on warming up her milk. He asks her if he can add a touch of cinnamon, “a trick I learned from my wife.” If you’re keeping score, that’s twice now that men in the film have comforted Carrie with food they’ve prepared.

It’s too bad that Miranda and Charlotte have to get liquored up at their hotel room bar to talk honestly about their feelings on motherhood, but at least they spill their confessions. Miranda, who has just quit her job because of a sexist, asshole boss, delivers one of the most real (to me) lines of the entire film: “I love my child, but being a mother is not enough.” Both of them acknowledge how lucky they are to be able to afford full-time help. “Cheers to mothers who don’t have any help” is a small token to those of us who are balancing full-time, fulfilling work and parenthood, but at least they recognize how hard it is, no matter the circumstances.

Women, food and cultural stereotypes come together in one scene by the hotel pool when the characters watch as a women clad entirely in a black burqa eat a French fry. “How is she going to eat that?” they ask. (A question many of us non-veiled women have probably wondered at some point.) They watch as the women lifts up her veil and brings the food to her mouth, practically sneaking a bite.

Later in the film, Miranda, who knows all too well the gender-related hypocrisy that is still alive and well in the U.S., ties it all together: “Men pretend they like women with a strong voice, but they’d really prefer us to eat fries behind a veil.”

But by this point, Roger Ebert, David Edelstein and even many of their female colleagues had stopped listening.

(Images from neuro74 on Flickr and Warner Bros. Pictures.)

15 responses to “Eating fries under a burqa: Devouring (and defending) ‘Sex and the City 2’

  1. Wow! This is the first time I’ve had a chance to read your new blog and I absolutely loved this fact I shushed the kids twice so i could read it properly :) I can’t even properly think of a good comment to leave…so um thumbs up!

    • Thanks! The movie, just like the series, isn’t for everyone, but I’m just disappointed that it’s gotten a lot of flack despite the popularity of the (similar) dude bromance flicks.

  2. Wonderful, Addie! I love that you paid attention to the food in SATC 2. I especially love that your brought up the “milk warming” scene. It was such a quiet little scene. It made me crave warm milk and who craves warm milk? While I’ll probably never live a pampered Sex and the City life, I always get the warm and fuzzies from these women. Great post. I’m so glad you enjoyed the movie and shared in my frustration over Hollywood’s insidious double standards.

    Oh, and Aidan. So hot. :)

    PS. You’ve got a nice new space here. I love the name!

  3. How timely, just saw this yesterday, despite the horrific reviews. Fashion aside, I love your food thread evaluation here, very true … I, too, was struck (impressed) by Miranda’s role in this outing. She resonated consistently with me – over the winch invoking script cliches. Would you, as Carrie, have called Big? still pondering that one.
    One of my fave moments (admitted musical theatre buff) was Liza, working that number – at age 64.

    • I couldn’t believe Liza’s act! I’m not a huge fan of that song, until she sang and danced her ass off to it. What a performance! :)

      I probably would have told him eventually, but I also thought it wasn’t going to stop with a kiss. I loved the contrast with Samantha of a kiss being a big deal or not that big of a deal.

  4. Addie — I enjoyed both the movie and your unique blog post about it so much! I haven’t seen any of the reviews of SATC2 and knew I would see it regardless. I did and enjoyed every minute of the outfits, the friendship, and the food! It’s funny because I never really thought about the ladies relationship with food and the thread it played in the movie and what you wrote made me think of it in a new way.

    The idea of openly enjoying food, sex, and fashion was something the SATC women openly reveled in and now that I think about it, I found it strange that the writers allowed the middle eastern women in the movie to openly enjoy food in a public way, but had to keep their interest in sex and fashion under wraps.

  5. Totally agree with Jodi on this one. I’ve never thought about their relationship with food. Ever. Well, aside from the Miranda Payard Patisserie chocolate dome cake (and eating cake out of the garbage). Such a unique way of looking at it.

    • From the raw restaurant where Smith Jared worked to the proposal on the cake, I feel like I could do a food analysis of the whole series! Which, of course, would just give me a good excuse to watch all the episodes again. :)

  6. Oh, how I loved Smith Jared’s first episode. Food as foreplay, baby! That’s the foodie subtext to the whole series, IMO.

    Love your observations, but want to quibble with one point. Miranda actually *does* do laundry in one of my favorite episodes. She’s appalled by what she finds in Steve’s underwear… Need I say more? What does THAT say about gender roles?!!

  7. I liked reading your review, Addie. I feel that you picked out many of the more subtle, nuanced moments in the film to dig deeper into–and I, too, enjoyed the movie overall. I agree with the response from Jodi–that SATC is a cultural institution that will draw committed viewers regardless of whether the reviews are “good” or “bad” (or whether the movie is good or bad), which is what Sarah Bunting talks about here:

    In terms of the portrayal of UAE (or Middle Eastern) culture/dress/disposition in the film, I think the critique is more focused on the narrative, setting, and character choices that the film director/producer/writer made and not on the reactions from Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte (which, I agree, were more or less similar to the ways in which any American would respond to cultural difference). I would be interested to hear what others have to say about the narrative decision to take the four women to UAE–it was certainly a risky move considering current world (un)relations. Do you think it was ultimately a productive risk? Or detrimental to the ways in which Americans think about “Middle Easterners”?

    Thanks for sharing, Addie. I look forward to reading more here and I hope to be able to contribute, too. :)

    • Great questions, Abby. A risky move on Michael Patrick King’s part, for sure. I could see the temptation to put the main characters in another shiny city with lots of money but with entirely different cultural norms for women. I’ll be interested to see what others say…

      Thanks for chiming in, Abby! Can’t wait to share a post from you on another topic related to food and women.

  8. Pingback: Girl Eats World » Girl Links World – Volume 2·

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