I Don't Know How She Does It
2011, PG-13, 95 min. Directed by Douglas McGrath. Starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Christina Hendricks, Olivia Munn, Busy Philipps, Seth Meyers.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Sept. 16, 2011
Call her commercial cinema's poet laureate for the working woman. Okay, no one’s going to confuse Aline Brosh McKenna's screenplays with poetry, but you might reasonably compare them to chart-topping pop. From the tart The Devil Wears Prada and the taffeta'ed 27 Dresses to last year’s amenable, if gently wilted Morning Glory, McKenna’s scripts are cozy and catchy. You can comfortably anticipate every bridge from verse to chorus, each crescendo and key change, and that is the very essence of their balm.
I Don’t Know How She Does It, McKenna’s latest comic disquisition on a woman’s balancing act between work and family (or relationship, in her single-gal pictures), is adapted from Allison Pearson’s best-selling novel. The roots, shall we say, are showing. The voiceover and direct camera address pushily ape the first-person chattiness of chick lit; worse yet, characters talk to the camera as if an invisible film crew is hovering, a technique that should have been retired after TV’s The Office and Parks and Recreation brilliantly but fairly definitively maxed out its potential. That may at least explain why for the first 30 minutes I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was watching a really promising pilot for network TV.
That first half-hour is rocky – I swear, Sarah Jessica Parker’s harried mom slash investment banker Kate spends most of it talking about a bake sale. A handful of other women in Kate’s orbit chat up the camera – a single mom and lawyer played by a sparky Christina Hendricks; Olivia Munn’s kid-allergic, eyes-on-the-corporate-prize associate; and Busy Philipps as a bitchy stay-at-home mom – and they all stay overwhelmingly on-message. There isn’t a lot of nuance here, or even, frankly, any dramatic conflict. Yes, Kate is wracked with guilt that an exciting job opportunity requires her to miss milestones with her two children and cuddly couch dates with her husband Richard (Kinnear). But that, disappointingly, constitutes the bulk of the picture: a cataloguing of Kate’s guilt.
Also: Investment banking is boring to watch. Seriously. Most of the film is spent on a plot with eternal smoothie Pierce Brosnan as Kate's partner on a big business deal (the details of which are only vaguely relayed, as if even the filmmakers knew it was a snore). Too much time and energy is directed toward that go-nowhere story, wasting the film's best asset, which is the low-key, lived-in rapport between Parker and Kinnear. The only element of the film that really works – and even occasionally sings – is their realistically rumpled portrait of domestic life.