Watching the new Sex and the City movie is like having sex with an ex. You already know what you're going to get (give or take some new wrinkles), so if you were satisfied before, you're not likely to be disappointed now. In fact, the Sex and the City movie is a better wrap-up to the show than the wobbly series finale that aired on HBO five years ago, trading the show's fairy-tale endings for something more ambiguous and, ultimately, real.
First, though: a word of warning. While this is normally the point in the review where I'd tell you what happens in the film, almost every Sex and the City fan I've talked to wants to be surprised, plugging their fingers in their ears immediately after asking me, "So, how was it?" To read the film's tight-lipped publicity packet, you'd have no idea that there's a plot at all, and the film's publicists have warned journalists who screened the film in advance to refrain from spoiling any of Sex's surprises. Thus, if you'd rather not know even the barest essentials of what the film is about (no more than what is hinted at in the trailer, anyway), press on past the next paragraph.
Though Sex picks up five years after the series ends, little has changed in the story's core relationships. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Big (Chris Noth) are still together, though an impending cohabitation raises questions of marriage that Big isn't always prepared to deal with. Also still intertwined are Samantha (Kim Cattrall) and actor beau Smith (Jason Lewis), who have followed Smith's career out to Los Angeles -- a surprising development for Samantha, who isn't used to playing second fiddle. Meanwhile, Miranda's (Cynthia Nixon) marriage to Steve hits a rough patch when her waning sex drive starts to push him away, while Charlotte's (Kristin Davis) idyllic marriage remains that way for the entirety of the movie, giving Davis little to do but beam and listen to her friends' more turbulent adventures. As for gay confidants Stanford (Willie Garson) and Anthony (Mario Cantone), don't expect much more than cameos -- though there's one brief moment that hints the pair might share their own adventures together in the future.
Though Sex and the City is often dismissed as fantasy -- a tag that the movie's Vincente Minnelli-inspired fashion montages will do little to shake -- at its heart, the show was always rooted in realistic compromise. Take Charlotte, who expected picture-perfect WASP love but found it with a Jewish husband and Chinese daughter, or Miranda, who went from self-contained career woman to Brooklyn mother hen. As lavish as the ladies' dreams are (and in its first hour, the film makes those dreams pretty damn lavish), perfect fantasy is inevitably chucked aside for messy -- but fulfilling -- reality.
In that way, then, the film honors the intent of the series and adds one additional flavor: forgiveness. If the show was about landing a relationship, the movie is about the frequent apologies that must be granted to keep a long-term relationship running. And in the same spirit, I'll forgive some of my minor quibbles with the film (including the bizarre CG mist covering half of Kim Cattrall's wrinkles and the ladies' horrified reaction when Samantha gains 10 pounds) if it means that the inevitable sequels will be this consistently entertaining.