Kernel Rating (out of 5):
Length: 95 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Age Appropriate for: 14+. Cursing and some sexual situations, but nothing explicit. More of the content is talk about affairs and infidelity, and the importance of steady sex in a marriage, than anything graphic or dirty.
I don’t know how Sarah Jessica Parker got cast in a role where she has to be a real grownup, when she constantly plays Carrie from ‘Sex and the City’ in every film she’s in, no matter the character. ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It,’ indeed.
By Roxana Hadadi
“I Don’t Know How She Does It” is one of those movies that makes me vehemently hate how Hollywood portrays women. After a summer where “Bridesmaids” broke every typical image of women in film with a really acute analysis of female friendships, competition and loyalty, we get “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” which seems to joyfully skip into every closet Hollywood boxes female characters into. Women in cliques! Women who hate each other! Women who are despised by their family members for being successful! Women who seriously consider cheating on their spouses for no reason at all! You’ll hate every one of them, I swear.
Nothing about “I Don’t Know How She Does It” is smart, witty, cute or insightful. Ultimately it’s just another bad turn for Sarah Jessica Parker, who brings her musing and goofy Carrie Bradshaw persona from “Sex and the City” into a film that requires her to be an unyielding insurance broker who works extra-hard at maintaining her family and marriage while also refusing to take any crap at her job. Parker is a terrible miscast; every time she whispers or stutters or giggles, it’s like a stab into the character created by journalist Allison Pearson, who authored the same-named 2002 novel.
Pearson’s book, written before the worldwide economic downturn, had an interesting premise in Kate Reddy, a British hedge-fund maven who lived to brutalize the competition but considered leaving her career behind to effectively be there for her husband and children. Back then, in simpler times, it was a nice idea to consider leaving a cushy, high-paying job to spend more time with the kids and get rid of the nanny.
But it’s 2011. Jobs are scarce. Everyone is working hard to make a living. In this climate, to create a film that suggests a woman would seriously get so much grief from her husband for her amazing job, and that other mothers would view her negatively for her success, and that she would consider abandoning her career as a result, just seems utterly bogus. Why would this happen? Is it just because women inherently have some kind of guilt that keeps them from professional happiness? Is it because women automatically hate each other? Director Douglas McGrath and writer Aline Brosh McKenna, who adapted Pearson’s novel, put forth those stereotypes but don’t combat them. They just throw together a shoddy plot, edit in some awkward interview-style segments and force Parker into excessive physical comedy to try and make “I Don’t Know How She Does It” work, and it doesn’t. It so doesn’t.
So yeah, Kate (Parker) is married to husband Richard (Greg Kinnear), who is starting his own small business, and they have two kids, the elementary-school-aged Emily (Emma Rayne Lyle) and 2-year-old Ben (Julius and Theodore Goldberg). Kate works for an investment firm in Boston, forcing her to travel around the country a lot, but she simultaneously tries to meet Emily’s requirements for school, Ben’s need for her presence and Richard’s yearning for her love by making endless to-do lists and failing to properly delegate to her young nanny Paula (Jessica Szohr), who is constantly late but whom Kate refuses to fire because she thinks the kids really need her.
So Kate thinks she’s doing well, until she gets assigned a big project at work that pairs her up with assistant Momo (Olivia Munn) and higher-up Jack Abelhammer (Pierce Brosnan). With meetings in New York City and around the U.S., Kate begins growing closer to Jack and struggling to be there for her family. Richard resents her absence. Single-mom friend Allison (Christina Hendricks) is convinced something must be going on between Kate and Jack. Mothers of Emily’s classmates, who Kate calls the evil “Momsters” and are led by gym rat Wendy (Busy Philipps), mock Kate’s success and fashion choices. And as everything seems to come to a breaking point, Kate decides to choose between her family and her job, a frustratingly drawn-out decision that belies the film’s simplicity and absurd ideas about a woman’s role at home and at work.
The miscasting of the film starts with Parker, but it continues throughout. Kinnear is useless as Richard, mainly because the role just makes him a jealous, judgmental guy who can’t handle his wife’s success. Munn is idiotic as Momo, who is so committed to her job that she walks, looks, moves and speaks like a robot, a joke that gets old immediately. And Philipps, while believably smarmy, is totally unnecessary as Wendy. Why should audiences even care what other moms think of Kate? The film tries to show that their judgments are just as important as how Kate is treated by her co-workers and relatives, but when the Momsters only show up in two scenes, it’s absurd to have Wendy’s interview sequences be so omnipresent.
The only tolerable part of “I Don’t Know How She Does It” is Hendricks, who makes it work as a sassy single mom who is Kate’s best friend and perpetual cheerleader. She’s bubbly, gorgeous and genuine, the sole believable element of this film. Everything else about “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” from the other actors to the plot to the script, pale in comparison. Without her, this film would have been utter garbage; with her, it’s still mostly garbage. One woman can only do so much.