I Don’t Know How She Does It (review)

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Sarah Jessica Parker and Greg Kinnear in I Don’t Know How She Does It


Look, I dunno how lots of women do it, either. I’m just barely holding my shit together, and I only have myself to take care of: no husband, no kids. Not even any pets anymore. Not even any plants.
But it’s pretty fucking clear how Sarah Jessica Parker’s Kate Reddy does it. How she manages to juggle a high-powered career, two demanding moppets, and a marriage: She’s got a buttload of dough, enough to live in a gorgeous Boston brownstone (with trips to the vacation home in New Hampshire!) and rely on a fantastic nanny and just buy stuff as a shortcut in the time-is-money, money-is-time tradeoff. Her husband has a flexible work schedule, doesn’t mind changing diapers or making dinner, and is all around a pretty amazing guy, as far as we can see. She’s even still crazy in love with him, as well she should be, since he’s Greg Kinnear (Green Zone, Flash of Genius). Maybe she could foist the responsibility for providing for the kindergarten bake fair off on him rather than stressing herself out over it, but if she feels like she must take on these things herself, who are we to question her? Indeed, who are we to wonder how does it at all? Why would anyone wonder?

Oddly, though, I don’t hate I Don’t Know How She Does It for that reason. Or mostly not for that reason. I haven’t not hated Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex and the City 2, Failure to Launch) onscreen like I don’t hate her here for years.

Yes, it’s obnoxious that we are being asked to sympathize with this privileged woman who obviously does not have the problems on the same level that many working mothers have: pay the rent or buy groceries? take a day off without pay to stay home with a sick child or send the kid to school and hope it’s not pneumonia again? Yes, it’s obnoxious that the film insists that all women want babies, even the ones who deny it. Yes, it’s obnoxious that it pits women against women even as it’s aiming for a “we girls gotta stick together” thing: it gives us nonworking mothers as shallow, selfish brats who do nothing but pamper themselves and exercise all day. (Seriously, Parker is the last person on the planet who should be bemoaning women with ridiculously low percentages of body fat.) Yes, it’s obnoxious that it assumes that only women who are wives and mothers are harried.

Yes, it’s obnoxious that the deeply goddesslike Christina Hendricks (Life as We Know It, Mad Men) is here, as Kate’s best friend, and her divinity is utterly ignored (though it can’t help but shine through anyway).

No, what doesn’t work about I Don’t Know How She Does It — based on Allison Pearson’s novel [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.] — is that it’s not a story. It’s a quirky Hallmark card you send to your best girlfriend when you’re both overstressed and need a laugh. That’s no bad thing… when it’s a greeting card. A story needs conflict; even a comedy, which this nominally is, needs drama. And there isn’t any here. This is more like a gentle standup routine of “observational” “humor.” Some of it is implicit: there is never any question whether Kate’s husband will jump on the career opportunity he is offered, even though it means longer work hours for him, but Kate frets over her own big break, and must promise him that she’ll make it all work; we never see him juggling, even though it’s plain that he’s doing so. Isn’t it funny how men never worry about juggling? Some of it is explicit: there’s a lot of narration from many different characters commenting on Kate’s life, much of it along the lines of “Isn’t it funny how men never change the toilet paper?” Maybe that’s true, so what’s the fucking solution? (I suggest pretending that you can’t hear him shouting from the john for another roll.)

How She Does It just sighs mildly about all the inequities of Kate’s world and then dismisses them as potential battle fodder. Her boss (Kelsey Grammer: Middle Men, Swing Vote)? Loves her. Her asshole colleague (Seth Meyers: Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Journey to the Center of the Earth)? Hardly an obstacle. Her robotically efficient single-and-childless assistant (Olivia Munn: Iron Man 2, Date Night)? Mommified. Her tsk-tsking mother-in-law (Jane Curtin: I Love You, Man, The Librarian: Return to King Solomon’s Mines)? Easily ignored. The bigwig new work partner (Pierce Brosnan: Remember Me, The Ghost Writer)? Totally understanding and undemanding. And her husband, of course, is supremely tolerant and forgiving.

What, in all sincerity, is Kate’s problem here? She’s busy? Who isn’t? Her life looks enviable, not pitiable. But mostly, her story doesn’t look like, you know, a story.

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