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Sisterhood and the cinema

The Baltimore Sun

As they counted down the days, they ticked matters of the most crucial variety off their lists.

Tickets? Check.

Limo? Check.

Outfit? Oh, sister, so totally checked and double checked.

For women, the Sex and the City premier weekend wasn't so much a movie as a reunion - a long-awaited get-together with Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda, one that they simply could not experience without their own best friends.

Mary McBride, a 32-year-old from Annapolis who saw the movie Saturday with her three best friends, is going again Friday - with more friends.

"I want to go with my sisters, my best friends, my work friends," she says. "I'm like going to have to keep seeing this movie."

In the Baltimore area, and in cities all over the country, women arrived at showings en masse, stepping out of limos in high heels - manicured, coiffed and buzzing ever-so-slightly from Cosmopolitans sipped before the show.

Like men have the Super Bowl and tweeners their Hannah Montana, women have found in Sex and the City a rare opportunity to bond, fortify their sisterhood and publicly revel in their own femininity.

Mayor Sheila Dixon, who said she has seen every episode of the show, a hit on HBO from its debut in 1998 until the 2004 finale, wanted tickets for Friday, opening night, but settled for Saturday. To hit the theater with her daughter and some good friends, Dixon slipped on skinny jeans (that her daughter made her buy in New York) and platform sandals.

"I don't think there was a bad outfit in there," she said yesterday, noting that she's inspired to try a few of the movie's looks to infuse her mayoral wardrobe with a little Manhattan flair. "But for me, the real message was maintaining and cultivating strong, real relationships. I've learned a lot from watching the show."

Women like Dixon, along with their friends and a few glum boyfriends and husbands, propelled Sex and the City to the top of the weekend's box office. It brought in more than $55 million, leaving Indiana Jones and his manly whip in its perfumed dust.

Eight-five percent of the ticket buyers were women.

"The Cosmos were pouring and the girls came out in strength," said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros., referring to the show's signature cocktail.

"There has never been, in the history of our industry, a female-driven movie that's created a frenzy like this."

McBride, a cancer research administrator at Johns Hopkins, can't think of another movie where she would think twice about her outfit.

But no sweats for this - she brought out a flowing top, showy heels and her good jeans.

"You have to dress up and feel girly-girly," says McBride, who saw the movie Saturday with her three best friends. "The show is all about friendship, going out and having fun. So going to see it, you want to do that, too."

Throngs of stiletto- and sundress-wearing women of all ages arrived a full hour early for a Sunday matinee at Harbor East's Landmark Theater.

Some fans posed for pictures in front of the Sex and the City movie poster beside the ticket window. Others stood in long lines at the theater bar, thirsty for a $9.50 "blond-haired slut," named in honor of the audacious Samantha. Cosmopolitans, the show's pink signature beverage, were also in demand.

Though it was more brunch time than cocktail hour, that didn't keep the party dresses or high heels in the closet.

As the movie played, women in the audience cheered, clapped and cried. One couldn't contain herself, yelling at the screen, "I love you, Mr. Big!"

Landmark's CEO Ted Mundorff called the movie "a cultural phenomenon," with pre-sales the likes of which he has never seen. Women literally bought tickets by the busload, he says.

"They gathered their friends and showed up, and it was phenomenal," Mundorff said. "We started adding shows early on."

The movie was also selling out at the Rotunda theater in Baltimore, where owner Tom Kiefaber has ballyhooed it for weeks, getting choruses of "high-pitched yays" every time he mentioned it.

"It's the most gender-specific blockbuster ever released in the history of the motion picture business," he says. "We'll see how the numbers play out, but it certainly appears that way."

To comfort any species of the male kind who might find himself in a Sex and the City showing, Kiefaber says he's joking about selling packs of blackout shades and ear plugs at the concession stand as a "public service."

When Kiefaber called his distributor trying to get another copy of the film to show on a second screen at the Rotunda, his representative told him the White House was also trying to get a copy.

Michele Deckman, who owns the boutique Diva in Annapolis, the sort of swank place the Sex and the City ladies might appreciate, planned a movie-themed promotion for her store where customers could sip cocktails and shop among mannequins dressed in the style of each of the characters.

But she made sure she had Saturday night clear to see the movie herself. She brought her husband - one of just three lonely men at the testosterone-deficient Annapolis theater.

"Everyone was in little shoes, little dresses, going all-out," Deckman said, adding that her husband actually enjoys the show - "though he probably doesn't admit it in public."

Sun reporter Kelly Brewington and wire services contributed to this article.


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