Kristin Davis, Sarah Jessica Parker,and Cynthia Nixon in Sex and the City
(© New Line Cinema)
Kristin Davis, Sarah Jessica Parker,
and Cynthia Nixon in Sex and the City
(© New Line Cinema)
HBO's hit series Sex and the City may have gotten its fair share of attention from its spot-on depictions of the words in its title, but its heart and soul always resided in its gimlet-eyed examination of the unbreakable bond of four female friends struggling to navigate the shores of Manhattan. Smartly, writer-director Michael Patrick King has kept true to that mission in his long-awaited feature film version, resulting in an emotionally satisfying experience, despite a surprising slew of missteps -- including a rather bloated two-and-a-half-hour running time.

While newcomers to the quartet are given a quick introduction to the lives of Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Charlotte (Kristin Davis), and Samantha (Kim Cattrall), the film is clearly geared to those viewers who have a shared history with these singular women. As we first meet them, three years after the series' finale, overworked lawyer Miranda's fragile domestic bliss in Brooklyn with bartender hubby Steve (David Eigenberg) and son Brady is quickly shattered when Steve admits to a brief infidelity; perpetually perky Charlotte and husband Harry (Evan Handler) are now parents to Lily, an adorable Chinese toddler; and Samantha has moved to California with much-younger lover Smith Jerrod (Jason Lewis), where she is struggling with issues of personal identity, monogamy, perpetual sunshine, withdrawal from New York, and eventually, weight gain.

As for Carrie, she has written three successful books, but is still single and living in her old apartment. Within minutes of the film's opening, though, she and on-again-off-again-on-again flame Mr. Big (Chris Noth) are planning to move in together to a spacious Fifth Avenue penthouse -- and tie the knot. The bulk of the film is then devoted to one burning question: will-they or won't-they live happily ever after?

While we wait for the inevitable resolution, we can take considerable pleasure in the extraordinary parade of outfits that costumer Patricia Field has swathed the ladies in -- particularly Parker, who is perhaps cinema's most perfect clotheshorse since Audrey Hepburn. (A sequence in which she tries on a variety of wedding outfits for a Vogue shoot is particularly stunning.) Not since The Devil Wears Prada has the fashionable set had a film so worth flocking to.

More importantly, King has crafted wonderfully believable and occasionally fraught relationships among the women, whose characters stay true to their television beginnings while also growing in significant ways. As always, Nixon -- a consummate actress in any medium -- has the toughest assignment; Miranda is often unlikeable, even unreasonable, but Nixon never fails to find her vulnerability. Davis again manages to make Charlotte endearing rather than nauseating. Cattrall, whose acting abilities have often been underappreciated, is asked a bit too often to downplay Samantha's natural sass, but her charisma shines through whenever she's onscreen. Then there's Parker, who remains a complete joy to watch whether Carrie is radiant, morose, insecure, confident, blondish or brunette. One simply never tires of the star's company.

In focusing the film so completely on the women, however, King has given everyone else shockingly short shrift. Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls) shows up latish in the movie as Louise, a St. Louis gal who briefly becomes Carrie's personal assistant, and she gives a lively performance. But it remains a mystery why her only scenes are with Parker, and not the rest of the clan. Worse, almost all of the film's men -- including wedding planner Anthony (Mario Cantone) and Carrie's best pal Stanford (Willie Garson) -- are reduced to virtual cameos. The most significant male screen time belongs to Noth, who frankly seems uncomfortable as a now-defanged, almost puppy-doggish Mr. Big, and hunky Gilles Marini as Samantha's sex-crazed and frequently fully nude neighbor Dante.

In addition to brief appearances by past favorites Candice Bergen (as Carrie's editor) and Lynn Cohen (as Miranda's loyal nanny, Magda), there are glimpses of such Great White Way favorites as Daphne Rubin-Vega (as a woman the girls meet in an auction-house bathroom), Malcolm Gets (as a realtor), Sara Gettelfinger (as a flight attendant), and Annaleigh Ashford (as an obnoxious candidate for the job of Carrie's assistant). Moreover, the filmmakers are certainly to be commended for their generous use of real New York City locations in addition to New York actors.

Whether we need to catch up again with Carrie and company in another four years -- or even another 10 -- is debatable. But as reunions go, Sex and the City is a pretty good time!