I Don’t Know How She Does It (2011) – Douglas McGrath

A few years ago in Poland, the military distributed special bootsdesigned for women’s feet for its female troops. This caused a small kerfuffle as a number of people felt it was sexist or patronizing to have one set of shoes for men and a different set for women. I tend to think that men and women have different feet but I’m anything but an expert on the podiatry of the XX chromosomal set. I don’t know what side of that debate I Don’t Know How She Does It would fall, but that’s mainly because I don’t know the movie’s point of view on a whole lot, except that it’s very much in favor of working mothers, not so high on stay-at-home moms, and of the belief that career women with no kids will eventually come around.

The movie is a comedy starring Sarah Jessica Parker as a mother of two who works in the financial sector in Boston and tries the patience of her mostly understanding husband, played by Greg Kinnear, with her hectic schedule and demanding travel. She is competing at work with a job-first single woman (Olivia Munn) and a slimy shark who lets his wife raise the kids (Seth Meyers), and competes at home with two female homemakers who bring better baked goods to school functions (Busy Philipps and Sarah Shahi). Parker is given an opportunity at work to impress a big client (Pierce Brosnan) and that further takes her away from her family. The movie’s problems surface nearly from the beginning with director Douglas McGrath’s odd or overdone stylistic choices. Parker is always making lists of all the things she has to do and the items on them fly across the screen in inelegant ways. The movie also breaks its rhythm for documentary-style interviews with the movie’s auxiliary characters that don’t add much to the proceedings. Most of these are done by Parker’s friend played by Christina Hendricks, who mainly heaps praise on working mothers everywhere, Philipps who, I guess, is to act snobbish and represent how much easier it is being a stay-at-home mom and Myers, who speaks for all piggish men in the world.

Hollywood has never been accused of carrying the mantle for feminism so any movie that tackles the subject of modern womanhood is a good thing. But I Don’t Know How She Does It feels like lip service. It doesn’t add anything particularly new to a subject most people are aware of; it hardly penetrates deeper than one of those laundry detergent ads where the hectic mom has one less thing to worry about thanks to Tide. It does tell its story reasonably well and doesn’t muck it up with too many side trips (it does introduce the idea of Brosnan’s infatuation with the married Parker, but there’s never any real danger of that) but it tries to do too much at once. It’s best when it slows down and shows Parker and Kinnear at home, two tired but affectionate people who try their best, but McGrath doesn’t have the time. It would have been nice, for example, to have to-the-audience segments with Brosnan and Kinnear, modern men whose thoughts I’d be interested in considering the movie is about a woman’s navigation through a still mainly man’s world. It doesn’t happen. And the movie’s attack on stay-at-home moms is just bizarre. Even the careerist Munn character is shown as a cold harridan and when she eventually has a child, it’s like she’s been cured. The movie is so preoccupied on hitting every aspect of working motherdom that it doesn’t fully develop any of them and feels as cluttered as one of Parker’s lists.

It’s not really serious about sexism or double standards or how difficult it is to balance family and work and once the viewer accepts that the going gets easier. I Don’t Know How She Does It isn’t anything more than a light comedy about the tough choices women are faced with (though what it wants to be is a different matter; it wishes it was a little harder hitting, which leads to some tone issues). And honestly, if you have worked 10 hours to come home and take care of the kids, don’t you want a funny movie that does nothing else than remind you that, yes, you have the hardest job in the world? Though, as the hardest workers in the world, you deserve, I think, a funnier movie.

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