A film in which a busy working mother frets over bringing a store-bought pie to a school bake sale could quite fairly be accused of focusing exclusively on First World problems. But then, if you’re reading this, chances are you live a First World life and so may appreciate the juggling act required of the working moms in the domestic comedy I Don’t Know How She Does It.
Adapted from the novel by Allison Pearson, the film stars Sarah Jessica Parker as the driven, über-capable Kate Reddy, who works for a high-powered investment firm and travels more than her supportive husband (Greg Kinnear) might like — he has just started his own business and is pretty swamped himself — but still manages to dote on her two young children.
Kate gets everything right, her best friend Allison (Christina Hendricks of Mad Men) tells us with a sparkling grin. All the other moms are amazed at Kate’s ability to have it all, until suddenly cracks begin to show in her impressive veneer. Her obsessive list-making isn’t enough to ward off the disasters ahead when the demands of a time-consuming career clash with kids who refuse to stop growing up while Mom’s at the office.
That store-bought dessert is just the first step in Kate’s downhill slide, which includes missing her son’s first haircut and the dawning realization that one of the perils of business travel is that it can throw you into the circle of handsome businessmen like Jack Abelhammer (Pierce Brosnan), a patient, charming guy whose expensive suit is free of Cheerios spew and who doesn’t seem to mind the fact that Kate is inevitably doing something foolish or embarrassing every time he sees her. For someone who’s allegedly a genius in the tricky world of high finance, Kate seems dangerously inept at basic technology. Sending email to the right people, hiding text messages from prying eyes and knowing not to adjust your pantyhose while Skyping are really pretty simple rules by which to live.
I Don’t Know How She Does It makes good use of the overused mockumentary style and occasionally allows Kate to freeze the frame in order to speak directly to the audience, little conceits we’ve seen before but still work well enough here. The humor tends to be broad, but the spritely pace doesn’t allow for too much lingering on the jokes that don’t land (really, we’ve seen enough morning sickness bits to make us gag).
Olivia Munn and Busy Phillips do some nice supporting work here as Kate’s tightly wound assistant (Munn) and a nonworking mom just barely concealing her own stress (Phillips), and in its pleasantly sit-comish way, the movie makes a few pointed observations about the disparity of expectations for men and women in the workplace. The path Kate will eventually take is anything but surprising; no movie is going to come down in favor of work over family. Still, I Don’t Know How She Does It does allow that some people — women, even! — are deeply fulfilled by their work and need their jobs for more than financial reasons. For a movie, it’s pretty good at that balancing act Kate works so hard to achieve.
Cast: Sarah Jessica Parker, Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Christina Hendricks, Kelsey Grammer, Seth Meyers.
Director: Douglas McGrath.
Screenwriter: Aline Brosh McKenna. Based on the novel by Allison Pearson.
Producer: Donna Gigliotti.
A Weinstein Co. release. Running time: 90 minutes. Vulgar language, adult themes. Opens Sept. 16 at area theaters.