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I Don’t Know How She Does It (2011)
Movie Reviews

I Don’t Know How She Does It (2011)

Plays it safe with simplified caricatures instead of developed characters, yet succeeds at being nothing more or less than cute, feel-good entertainment.

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I Don’t Know How She Does It plays it safe when it comes to the subject of women balancing family life and a career, but that’s okay – it succeeds at being nothing more or less than cute, feel-good entertainment. It stars Sarah Jessica Parker as the aptly-named Kate Reddy, who juggles her job at a Boston-based financial management firm with a husband and two young children. Even in her perpetually frazzled state, she exudes such likeability that I found myself smiling on more than one occasion. But likeable characters aren’t necessarily compelling; because her increasingly busy situation is played more for laughs and warmth than for realism, a full emotional connection between character and audience never really develops. She, along with everyone else in the film, is a simplified caricature.

But since I had a good time, I find that I don’t much care. It was written by Aline Brosh McKenna, whose works of late have been hit-or-miss with me; while I greatly enjoyed The Devil Wears Prada, I didn’t care for 27 Dresses, and I despised Morning Glory. Here, she provides us with some funny, observant, and at times surprisingly sharp dialogue. She also had Kate narrate the film and even break the fourth wall on numerous occasions, allowing for director Douglas McGrath to employ some fanciful and fun visual effects. Example: Kate is biologically programmed to wake up every morning at 4:30 to make what she calls The List, a mental tally of everything that has to be done. As she lies in bed staring at the dark bedroom wall, we see imaginary words cluttering themselves next to blank check boxes. At other moments, time around her freezes, giving her the opportunity to approach the camera and address the audience directly.

Adapted from the novel by Allison Pearson, the plot revolves around Kate landing lucrative account with Jack Abelhammer (Pierce Brosnan), a successful banker from New York. While a professional victory, it’s a personal nightmare. There’s more to it than acting like a klutz in his presence, like when she catches lice from her children and feverishly scratches her head during a business meeting; she will now have to travel cross country every week, leaving her precious little time to spend with her family. Over the following months, she finds that she’s missing little milestones, like the first haircut of her two-year-old son, Ben (Theodore and Julius Goldberg). She’s constantly breaking promises to her daughter, Emily (Emma Rayne Lyle), who’s now old enough to feel the sting of disappointment. Her husband, an out-of-work architect named Richard (Greg Kinnear), is generally supportive but of course feels Kate doesn’t have her priorities straight.

At the moment, the only constant in her life is Jack, her new business associate. As they travel from city to city, we see a kind, understanding, and all-around decent man – a character so accommodating and respectable that we don’t give much thought to the plausibility of his very existence. You’re probably thinking that he and Kate will be spending a little too much time together, and that some inappropriate feelings will develop between them. You would, of course, be right. The surprising thing is that, even when Jack opens himself up to Kate, he remains a gentleman. There’s no sex, nor is there a kiss apart from an innocent peck on the cheek; there’s simply a heartfelt admission, followed by solemn resignation. If all high-powered financial executives were as charming and approachable as Jack Abelhammer, the world would be a much better place.

There are a couple of unnecessary subplots, all involving secondary characters that occasionally address an offscreen interviewer (yet another layer of narrative creativity). One is the unexpected pregnancy of Kate’s junior associate assistant, Momo (Olivia Munn), whose stony professionalism is a bit overplayed. There’s also Kate’s best friend and fellow working mom, Allsion (Christina Hendricks), who can be counted on to provide looser, more risqué dialogue. There’s Kate’s snarky business rival, Chris Bunce (Seth Myers), who has been dubbed the D.O.A. I leave it to you to discover what that stands for. And then there’s Wendy Best (Busy Philipps), another aptly named character; she has to be the best at absolutely everything, including how she raises her children. She’s mostly seen at the gym, endlessly working herself on an elliptical machine. Apart from snobbery, she contributes nothing to the story.

The ending, which decency prevents me from describing in detail, came as no surprise to me. This isn’t to say it bothered me; as long as it’s done well, a tidy conclusion is a welcome distraction from the drudgery of reality. Despite the fact that it can’t be taken too seriously, I Don’t Know How She Does It is a light, pleasant little film. The actors give relatively decent performances, the premise is engaging, and it has a lot of humor and heart. It’s also an infinitely better chick flick than either of Parker’s Sex and the City films, which I personally feel set women back a few decades. While it is by all accounts escapist entertainment, there are flashes of truth all throughout. Did you know that women are statistically better at investing than men? I didn’t need a movie to tell me that; I’ve seen the studies in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal.

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About the Author: Chris Pandolfi