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Movie review: 'I Don't Know How She Does It'

In 'I Don't Know How She Does It,' Sarah Jessica Parker juggles the demands of her profession and family in a generic-feeling comedy that doesn't bring anything fresh on the topic to the screen.

September 16, 2011|By Michael Phillips, Tribune Newspapers
  • Sarah Jessica Parker as a harried working mom in "I Don't Know How She Does It."
Sarah Jessica Parker as a harried working mom in "I Don't Know… (Craig Blankenhorn, The…)

Thwarted by the same awkward timing that zonked "Confessions of a Shopaholic" two years ago, just when shopaholics began to seem extra-heinous, the film version of "I Don't Know How She Does It" doesn't know how to do what I think it's trying to do.

I think it's trying to acknowledge the real-world pressures faced by many, many millions of women. The movie concerns three especially chaotic months in the life of Kate Reddy, an investment firm wiz played by Sarah Jessica Parker. Even in a disposable comedy with a pudding-like consistency and the aftertaste of something other than real sugar, Parker's comic and dramatic technique is formidable.

Freely adapting Allison Pearson's 2002 London-set bestseller, adjusted to Boston and New York locales and a tougher economy, screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna has the devil's own time juggling agendas. It's the same for Kate, who must negotiate time-sucking work projects, a backbiting rival (Seth Meyers) and a demanding boss (Kelsey Grammer), the attentions of a colleague played by Pierce Brosnan, and a tightly packed calendar involving two kids, a nanny and her easygoing-but-there's-a-limit husband, an under-employed architect (Greg Kinnear).

In addition to direct-address bits to the camera, the script relies largely on Kate's musings in voice-over, whisking us back in spirit to the comparatively carefree days of Parker in "Sex and the City" (which, on television, let's remember, was often wonderful). But the comedy's forced and forlorn in "I Don't Know How She Does It." We first see Kate as she desperately repackages a store-bought pie for a bake sale to make it seem homemade. Old joke; no new spin. Each supporting character gets placed into her own little box, labeled "shrill, stay-at-home, exercise-mad mom" (Busy Philipps, queen of the elliptical machines), "generically supportive best pal" (Christina Hendricks) and "workaholic assistant reminiscent of Emily Blunt in 'The Devil Wears Prada'" (Olivia Munn).

"The inside of a working woman's mind," one line goes, "is like the control tower at O'Hare airport." True, and yet doesn't that sort of generica belong to the era of "9 to 5"? "I Don't Know How She Does It" condescends inadvertently to its female characters even as it flatters their juggling abilities. The story lacks the wit to actually say something about double standards or gender politics in a crummy economy.

Also, for a movie largely about temptation, "I Don't Know How She Does It" has a weirdly low sexual current. Whenever Kate and her husband argue about their dangerously low rate of intercourse or some other matter, the stakes seem low, the friction frictionless.

Good performers can do only so much to specify what is not specific, or vivid. Near the end there's a series of glimpses of Parker and Kinnear beaming at each other from across a crowded room. As much as I like those two, even in reduced circumstances, those shots are enough to make you urp.

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