Kate Reddy (Parker) devotes her days to her job with a Boston-based financial management firm. At night she goes home to her adoring, recently-downsized architect husband Richard (Kinnear) and their two young children. It’s a non-stop balancing act. When Kate gets handed a major new account that will require frequent trips to New York, Richard also wins the new job he’s been hoping for—and both will be spreading themselves even thinner. Complicating matters is Kate’s charming new business associate Jack Abelhammer (Brosnan), who begins to prove an unexpected source of temptation.
I DON’T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT (or IDKHSDI) is a specific kind of chick flick. It is aimed squarely at working mothers who love the series SEX AND THE CITY and therefore its audience is huge. I saw this with a packed house that seemed to be 80% women and to say they loved this movie would be an under statement. This middle-class, middle-brow, middle-of-the-road comedy hit with every single gag – even on the few occasions when the audience was ahead of the punchline.
Sarah Jessica Parker (SJP) has accrued enormous good will with her popular television series. Her character Kate is like Carrie Bradshaw’s conservative, more introverted sister. Kate’s new job involves commuting from Boston to New York, so the film is more or less No Sex and The Tale of Two Cities. Parker is best known for playing a career-focused woman enjoying her single life in Manhattan. Now her constituency–the SJP Massive–has the opportunity to see her exercise her comic chops on the subject of motherhood. Kate and Carrie are two different characters, but they’re not THAT different. I think the film has been intelligently shaped to serve her fan base.
The movie is based on a 2002 best-selling novel by Allison Pearson and was originally set in North London. It was a hit precisely because it spoke to a readership of working mothers who could relate to the struggles that the Kate Reddy character has in balancing her family life with her work life. The first half of the movie is the strongest as it brings a comic focus and specificity to this daily juggling routine. Screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna (THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, 27 DRESSES) does a solid job of delivering the comedic observations and keeping the light drama moving at a good clip.
Part of the story is dealt with by Kate’s direct address to camera or voice over, which is another nod to SEX AND THE CITY; other characters also get to voice their take on Kate and motherhood. This is for the most part unnecessary, but the excellent Busy Phillips (COUGAR TOWN) gets to do a turn as an entitled, well-to-do, stay-at-home mom. Her character exists to skewer a certain A-type mother who makes other mothers feel inadequate. The zaftig Christina Hendricks plays Kate’s friend, but her role is underwritten as are all the male roles. The only other part of note is Olivia Munn as Kate’s assistant, the cool, hard-working, child-phobic Momo. Munn has been intermittently amusing as a DAILY SHOW correspondent and is hilarious here.
There is a rather tacked on love triangle which I preferred to ignore. The chemistry between Parker and Kinnear–who plays her screen husband–was virtually nil. The same could be said about the relationship with the Pierce Brosnan character. He fulfills his part with some good reactions and plays an elegantly good sport. The film is nothing more or less than a vehicle for Parker and everything is secondary to Kate’s journey.
There are some who will roll their eyes at Kate’s struggle. In Internet speak all her problems are of the First World variety. She has two healthy kids, a husband who loves her, a great house and the benefit of two incomes. This movie is not for anyone who sees Kate’s life as privileged. Her big question is “Can I have it all?” rather than “Can I cover the mortgage?” It’s not “Occupy Wall Street” in any way. Kate works in the finance sector. This is a middle-class aspirational tale with good comic timing.
The nub of the story is that Kate tries to do everything and be all things to all the people in her life. She is always tired and always a little guilty about short-changing her family or her job. She wants to be able to enjoy her life and the people in it more than she does. There are many who will identify with these challenges.
I DON’T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT runs for 89 minutes and opens in Australia today. I rated it 2.5/5.