Thursday, September 15, 2011

This movie doesn't do it at all

It's not Sex in the City, but I Don't Know How She Does It tends to feel just as glib.
On the way out of a preview screening of I Don't Know How She Does It -- a new comedy based on a novel by Allison Pearson - I wondered whether Sex In the City hasn't taken too big a toll on Sarah Jessica Parker.

Parker, a fine comic actress, seems to be stuck in a rut, playing roles that insist on pushing every modern-woman button in sight. This time, though, it's not the search for Mr. Right that motivates Parker's character, but the quest to find the perfect balance between job and family.

Parker's Kate is a Boston-based investment adviser with a husband (Greg Kinnear) and two young children. Kate's life consists of juggling a variety of domestic chores while striving to stay ahead of the game at work.

When she's offered the opportunity to woo an important client (Pierce Brosnan), Kate faces her biggest challenge. Brosnan's Jack Abelhammer is the kind of guy who insists that Kate be ready to travel on a moment's notice. Thanksgiving with the family? It can't be as important as a meeting with a client.

As directed by Douglas McGrath (Emma and Infamous), I Don't Know How She Does It vainly tries to be smart and topical, and you half suspect that McGrath & company are anticipating that hordes of middle-class working moms will identify like crazy as Kate tries to retain control over her chaotic life.

It's anything but easy. Harried and hassled, Kate buys a pie (instead of making it) for the bake sale at her daughter's school. She also endures the scornful slings and arrows of full-time moms who think a woman's place is on the treadmill - not the metaphoric one but the one at the local health club. OK, the movie made the point with some sort of stepping machine, but I couldn't come up with a strained metaphor for that particular instrument of torture ... er ... fitness. Trying to climb the ladder of success?

We move on.

As her professional demands mount, Kate inevitably neglects her husband, almost as much as the script does.

All of this stressed-out comedy comes across with enough annoying sitcom-level cleverness to make your eyes roll. A high point arrives when Kate meets Brosnan's Jack for an all-important interview while simultaneously grappling with a case of lice that she's contracted from her daughter.

Parker can handle this kind of comedy with ease, but the movie's script - by Aline Brosh McKenna - seems like a collection of situations designed to illustrate points taken from some dog-eared manual on contemporary motherhood. Some of the points are made by Kate in the form glib narration and some are delivered by the movie's other actors, who've been asked to talk directly to the camera.

Joining Parker in this misbegotten comedy is Christina Hendricks (of TV's Mad Men). She's the movie's obligatory wisecracking best friend. Olivia Munn signs on as Momo, Kate's crackerjack, Harvard-educated assistant. Momo's extremely proficient, which means she's disdainful of Kate's tendency to become hopelessly scattered - until she, too, yields to the gospel of family.

Kelsey Grammer appears in a small role as Kate's boss, a taskmaster who insists that she spend lots of time traveling.

The best part of the movie involves the flirtatious relationship between Parker and Brosnan, who's convincing as a Wall Street wizard who operates in New York City, forcing Kate to make frequent trips from her Boston home.

Will Kate abandon her husband and kids and opt for the giddy pleasures of a mega career in investing? What do you think? No fair telling, except to say that at no point will you have trouble guessing where I Don't Know How She Does It is headed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I always enjoy your thoughtful reviews. This is one movie that won't even make our DVD list. JL