In “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” a husband affectionately describes his dynamo wife as a “juggler,” paying homage, like everyone else in the film, to her expert balancing act of marriage, motherhood and career. Sarah Jessica Parker’s myriad fans will doubtless appreciate her frazzled warmth in a part she energetically inhabits, but the pic at times feels out of step with contemporary reality and humorless in its adaptation of a comic bestseller. Thesp’s charm (and wardrobe) may not be enough to wow targeted femme auds and signal a runaway hit upon the Weinstein Co. release’s Sept. 16 bow.
Kate Reddy (Parker) has attained equilibrium in her day-to-day routine, cheerfully taking on all challenges as she tries not to short-change her out-of-work architect spouse, Richard (Greg Kinnear), their two young kids or her ultra-demanding high-finance job at which, of course, she excels, aided by her ruthlessly efficient secretary, Momo (Olivia Munn). But, starting around the time of a fateful school bake sale, two simultaneous blessings threaten to upset her apple cart: Her boss (Kelsey Grammer) chooses her to head an important project, working closely with Gotham mover-and-shaker Jack Abelhammer (Pierce Brosnan), at the same point that her husband lands a major assignment.
If Kate’s emotional responsiveness often registers as a liability in her Boston office, it blooms freely elsewhere. She shares a teasing, sometimes frustrating relationship with her husband, who still excites her, but while her spirit is willing, her jet-lagged flesh often falls asleep. And her attentiveness to everyone who needs her, coupled with her highly proficient business acumen, immediately attracts Brosnan’s Jack, secure enough in his masculinity and professional position to be charmed rather than exasperated by her scattered loyalties.
Director Douglas McGrath and scripter Aline Brosh McKenna fare best in scenes in which Kate’s domestic travails intrude on the pressure-packed boardroom, as when Jack is visibly amused by Kate’s worries over stress-induced eczema and the accidental inclusion of a sonogram in her PowerPoint presentation. Brosnan is as charmingly sexy as one would expect in the characters’ intimate tete-a-tetes, which eventually turn to romance.
But McKenna, who penned the hugely successful adaptation of “The Devil Wears Prada,” largely falters in her scripting of Allison Pearson’s 2002 novel. While magnificent villains like Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestley admittedly come along rarely, the bad guys here read as particularly lame and dismally unfunny. Kate’s domestic nemeses are a pair of hypercritical stay-at-home moms, dubbed “Momsters,” one of whom (a shrill, beefy Busy Phillips) regularly pops by to diss Kate’s housekeeping skills. And Kate’s workplace adversary (“SNL’s” Seth Meyers) affords little pleasure in his backstabbing chauvinist role.
While there’s no dearth of films about the tribulations of working moms, “I Don’t Know How She Does It” inexplicably seems to assume that it’s the first. Characters like Kate’s lawyer pal Allison (Christina Hendricks), inserted in faux-interview segments, complain directly to the camera about the inequality of the sexes in the workplace as if the topic were newly minted. Parker’s mother (Jane Curtin) expounds on how much simpler it was in her day when each gender knew its place, as if “her day” were not the militant feminist ’70s.
Indeed, all the secondary characters in the film suffer from a lack of impact, personality or even specificity. Furthermore, with the exception of a bowling scene designed to give the investment-banker characters some blue-collar cred, the script never acknowledges the economic meltdown or the role of investment bankers therein. The oversight resonates to a surprising extent, so much so that the unwise insertion of a clip from Howard Hawks’ “His Girl Friday,” with Rosalind Russell’s Hildy Johnson fretting over home-vs.-office priorities, appears less dated than this blithely complacent picture.
Solid tech credits excellently support the pic’s built-in contrasts.