Sarah Jessica Parker in I Don't Know How She Does It
What I don't know: why these movies keep getting made. I Don't Know How She Does It is based on Allison Pearson's 2002 diaristic, comic bestseller and directed by Douglas McGrath. But its real auteur is screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna, scripter of wan workplace romantic comedies such as the limp fashion-magazine satire The Devil Wears Prada and the TV-news-show time-passer Morning Glory. The heroines of those two films are single and ambitious and triumph both professionally and romantically. Kate Reddy (Sarah Jessica Parker), the protagonist of I Don't Know How She Does It, must balance even more: a career in hedge fund managing, a spouse, and two young kids. Workplace movies, McKenna is quoted as saying in a recent favorable New York Times Magazine profile, "allow characters to really tell each other the truth." The screenwriter's latest project, however, is filled with lies.
We first meet Kate in the wee hours of the morning, as she returns from a business trip to her Boston brownstone. Still, there's work to be done: At 2 a.m., she jerry-rigs a deli-bought pie to look homemade for her kindergartener daughter's bake sale. Husband Richard (Greg Kinnear, nobly enduring) is hoping for some action in the marital bed. In both her home and work life, Kate must constantly anticipate needs and strive never to disappoint, impossible expectations that she tries to meet with ever detailed logistics—planning that becomes even more complicated when her job demands that she travel to New York frequently to work with a colleague there, Jack (Pierce Brosnan).
How does Kate do it? She is strong, she is invincible, she has the same surname as the singer who made "I Am Woman" a hit. She is also played by Sarah Jessica Parker, a performer so aggressively determined to make us like her that no work-life conflicts in the film ever gain any traction; we're too distracted by the actress's manic tics (the head tilts, the popping of the wounded-deer eyes) to notice any real adversity.
Kate pleads, cajoles, and apologizes a lot, though every time, she's quickly forgiven and surrounded by an army of endlessly understanding helpmeets. Richard, an architect, shows some pique when his wife can't make it through Thanksgiving dinner without checking her BlackBerry and a bit of insecurity over the time Kate is spending with Jack. But nothing is so insurmountable that a cuddle on the couch watching His Girl Friday can't fix.
In a significant departure from Pearson's book, Kate doesn't have to make any real compromises to fulfill her family's needs and her own commitment to a job she loves. But wouldn't the film serve its intended audience—moms who do it all—better with more messiness and less fantasy? "Somehow, someway, someday things have to change," Kate gushes to Richard during her vow to focus on the family. I Don't Know blithely acknowledges the obvious while still perpetuating the impossible.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss City Pages' biggest stories.