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Word of Mouth: Carrie Bradshaw as a working mom?

Sarah Jessica Parker's new movie 'I Don't Know How She Does It' can be viewed as an unofficial follow-up to 'Sex and the City.'

September 15, 2011|By Steven Zeitchik and John Horn, Los Angeles Times
  • Sarah Jessica Parker stars in "I Don't Know How She Does It."
Sarah Jessica Parker stars in "I Don't Know How She Does It." (Craig Blankenhorn / Weinstein…)

As Carrie Bradshaw in HBO's "Sex and the City" and its two spinoff movies, Sarah Jessica Parker faced the kind of choices that chic, independent women envied: Manolo Blahniks or Jimmy Choos, orgasmic one-night stand or cosmopolitans with the girls? Playing Kate Reddy in "I Don't Know How She Does It," Parker faces questions just a bit more prosaic and true to real life: Can I make breakfast for my two kids, and somehow avoid wearing the leftover batter to work?

In Friday's movie, adapted by Aline Brosh McKenna from Allison Pearson's bestselling novel, Reddy is a Boston investment manager trying to balance a taxing, alpha-male-dominated vocation with the demands of marriage, all while parenting a petulant 5-year-old daughter and an incommunicative 1-year-old son. As any working mom can testify, it's as perilous as going over Niagara Falls without a barrel, and Reddy faces one more profound problem — the advances of handsome colleague Jack Abelhammer (Pierce Brosnan).

The roughly $24-million movie from the Weinstein Co. sanitizes some of Pearson's narrative (specifically the plight of Reddy's marriage, and her interest in Abelhammer's flirtations) and relocates the story from England to New England; the movie adaptation suggests that it is possible to be a loving mom, an attentive wife and a working professional at the same time. If the book was a dramatic comedy, the film is more broad romance — with a feel-good Hollywood ending.

Audience tracking surveys show that older women and some younger women are interested in seeing the film, but "I Don't Know How She Does It" doesn't have much support from men of any age. It also faces three other new films in wide release this weekend: a 3-D version of the animated "The Lion King," the remake of the thriller "Straw Dogs" and the original crime drama "Drive."

The Weinstein Co. and the film's director hope audiences will see "I Don't Know How She Does It" as an unofficial sequel to "Sex and the City" — Carrie now has kids! — and in some ways that thinking aligns with Parker's own life: The actress and husband Matthew Broderick have three children, an 8-year-old son and twin 2-year-old daughters.

"When I was leaving for work this morning I was thinking about my kids, and how it felt like a real act of betrayal," Parker said last February on the New York set of the film. "That helps me appreciate the conflict that exists for this particular character and countless women across the globe. I can understand the purgatory we put ourselves in."

Director Doug McGrath, known for directing period dramas such as "Infamous" and "Nicholas Nickleby," said he saw in this story an extension of Bradshaw's quest to find the ideal man.

"It feels a little bit like a bookend to 'Sex and the City,'" he said of the film, which was in development for years and was once set to be directed by David Frankel ("The Devil Wears Prada"). "This is what happens if Carrie decides to take the next step — she finds that life is not necessarily any easier than finding the right person to date."

Parker's domestic skills came in handy on the film. Clad in furry slippers in the kitchen of the Brooklyn brownstone that served as that day's location, the actress hashed out details with McGrath and several members of the crew about how to properly "distress a pie" with a rolling pin. (They were planning for a scene in which Reddy, feeling incapable of holding her own against stay-at-home moms and betraying a promise to her daughter, tries to make a store-bought dessert appear homemade.)

"Maybe we can cut the pie this way and have me hit it from the side," Parker offered, impressing the props manager.

Downstairs, Greg Kinnear, who plays Reddy's patient husband, architect Richard Reddy, was changing into pajamas for a scene in which he is reading in bed after his wife returns from a business trip. In real life, Kinnear has three children, and he said he finds the parallels to his life helpful, if not a little eerie.

"I'm not sure what it says that I'm playing the father again," said the actor, who is perhaps best known for his role as a floundering suburban dad in "Little Miss Sunshine." "It may mean that I need to call my agent."

Like the book, the movie shows that what might look to be straightforward decisions — I'm going to have a career, too! — can carry enormous personal and emotional repercussions. As Reddy says in Pearson's novel, "I have got two lives and I don't have time to enjoy either of them" and "Becoming a man is the waste of a woman."

That conflict is echoed by Momo Hahn (Olivia Munn), a whip-smart Dartmouth graduate who's Reddy's assistant and foil. Hahn is mortified that Reddy has food on her suit and lice in her hair, and mystified that any career-oriented woman would want to be saddled with kids.

Munn said the film dramatizes a gender gap that she'd like to see closed. "There's a big, screaming difference between men and women, and I think you find it in the movie," she said. "We give ourselves guilt for letting our career get in the way of a relationship, and I don't think men do."

Steven Zeitchik was reporting from New York; John Horn from Los Angeles.

john.horn@latimes.com

steve.zeitchik@latimes.com

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