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USA 2011
Directed by
Doug McGrath
89 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

I Don't Know How She Does It

Synopsis: Kate Reddy (Sarah Jessica Parker) works a high-powered corporate job and is the mother of two. It’s a juggle but when she gets the opportunity to fast-track her career her ability to juggle the conflicting interest is going to be tested to the utmost.

I Don’t Know How She Does It is a chick flick or to be more exact, a working-chick-with-kids flick. If you don’t belong to that considerable portion of the population unless you’re mad keen on Sarah Jessica Parker this won’t do it for you. And even if you do fit the demographic, it will probably still require a good measure of indulgence.

I’ve never seen Sex & The City in either its small or big screen versions but I know that SJP’s Carrie Bradshaw was something of an icon for new millennial single material girls of a certain age. I can tell you now that SJ's not going to take the same place in the hearts and minds of modern working mums. It’s not her fault, so much as that of the producers, director and writer who together have fashioned an old school Hollywood fantasy that bears little resemblance to the lot of real women who have to balance the conflicting demands of children and a job.

The essential sticking point is that Kate Reddy is anything but representative of anyone who bears out the film’s title. She is supposed to be a hot shot investment analyst but we don’t see her actually doing any analysing. OK she’s got a hard-working PA (Olivia Munn) but even so she never brings a skerrick of work home. She wears make-up in bed, stilettos in the snow (and just about everywhere else, perhaps even in bed), lives in a Boston brownstone and has a nanny and an architect husband (Greg Kinnear). He’s a bit of a panty-waist but he has an income and seems to be around to help out. She may not be as rich as the bitchy, non-working gym-junkie wives who also send their kids to the same school that her daughter goes to but only for Hollywood would this constitute a form of hardship. In other words, like her solution to baking a pie, it's pretty obvious how she does it. For most women her life would be a dream. So forget IDKHSDI as a portrait for our times. It’s much closer to the sensibility of 1930s comedies about the ways of the well-to-do (an affiliation openly avowed by including a clip from the Howard Hawks 1940 classic, His Girl Friday).

The script for IDKHSDI was based on a book by well-known British columnist Allison Pearson. I haven’t read it but I assume it is the source of the film’s often wryly smart observations on the predicaments of the working mother, a woman in a man’s world and the devilish problems of email etiquette. I suspect that it was written in a diaristic mode for the core problem with the film is that dramatically there is no conflict just an accumulation of incidents, cleverly spliced into a semblance of a story. Classic films about working women such as His Girl Friday, or Adam’s Rib (1949) depend on strong one-on-one character conflict but Kate’s husband is a vaguely drawn figure and their affections and disaffections never get above room temperature. I also imagine that Pearson’s original text was a good deal more tart than the gauzy, sentimental treatment given it by director Doug McGrath and writer Aline Brosh McKenna, particularly in its final stages. Such are the things that happen when Hollywood goes to town.

So where we had the potential for a sharply satirical comedy all we end up with is a mildly amusing comedy built around the over-driven Parker. She is in every scene and if you’re a fan you’ll be well rewarded although when make-up and lighting don’t come together she can look quite frightening, an underweight casualty of many years of low carb, low-fat dieting and umpteen hours with her personal trainer, all in the name of someone else’s idea of beauty.

And this really is the rub with IDKHSDI. At heart It’s not so much a comedy about the life of a working mother as a whitewashing of the guilt that follows therefrom. Kate worries about what she’s doing to her kids, her husband and, as she drools over her scrumdiddelyumptious colleague, Jack Abelhammer (Pierce Brosnan), her marriage. But why is she doing this? Is she a dedicated research scientist, a gifted composer, a committed social worker? Is there a greater good for which she, thoughtlessly or otherwise, puts her personal life aside? No, she devotes her life to making money. And not even for herself but for her male bosses,. She purports to love her job, but we never find out why it is all-consuming. In truth, strip the gloss away and Kate is a good little Barbie who dedicates herself selflessly to the dictates of The Man (she does finally refuse to work one weekend!! Wow!! Talk about bolshy!!).  Of course, in the best Tinsel Town tradition of social engineering, for her self-denial Kate is rewarded with everything she ever wanted. Rows of wide-eyed stenographers and waitresses might have swallowed this sort of hogswaddle in the 1930s but it’s hard to believe that their modern day sisters will do the same. Or at least I hope they won't.

 

 

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