Judge Brett Cullum is not sure why she bothers to do it at all.
I'm not sure what she is doing let alone how she is doing it.
The biggest problem with I Don't Know How She Does It is that she doesn't do anything well and we don't end up liking her. This film deservedly ended up on a lot of 2011's "worst of" lists, because it shows us a woman who we are told is "a great juggler" of family and career, then proceeds to demonstrate how she doesn't juggle anything well, and tries to convince us this is some sort of achievement. It also hopes to sell Sarah Jessica Parker as a dowdy dumpy frazzled mom. This woman has been a style icon for over a decade and was the quirky yet super sexy Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City. Here she's having no sex in her city, but still looks ravishing rather than ravaged by her job and family. It just doesn't work.
Facts of the Case
Katy Reddy (Parker) is struggling to keep up with her well-paying job and two young children. She has a husband (Greg Kinnear, As Good as It Gets) who helps out as well as a young attractive nanny. Work gets more intense, when she's up for a huge promotion that involves working with the managing partner of her financial firm (Pierce Brosnan, Goldeneye), which also means she is going to be traveling a lot. So how can she keep everything together and everybody intact? She has no idea how.
I Don't Know How She Does It began as a popular book, and seemed natural to make the jump to the big screen as a cute romantic comedy with a nice "girl power" message. The only problem is this is supposed to be a young woman trying to learn how to raise a family and manage her career, and they cast the glamorous, older Sarah Jessica Parker. Sure, she's great at the physical comedy bits, but it's too hard to imagine her naive enough to not know the lessons she's learning. In fact, it's hard to imagine anyone seeing her as dumpy or dowdy at all. They try to cover her in oatmeal bits, cookie crumbs, and a case of head lice from the school, but somehow she looks way too good despite all the disasters. I can only assume the producers were banking on Parker's drawing power from her considerable Sex and the City fan base.
It's not just Parker, though. There are problems in casting most of the supporting players. Kinnear makes for a cute bland hubby given little to do but play "good guy" every time his wife is flustered. Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) is the impossibly glamorous single mom best friend, and Olivia Munn (The Daily Show) has far too much life to be playing a corporate drone. Seth Meyers (Saturday Night Live) mugs his way through the evil coworker bit as if he was in a skit, and Kelsey Grammer (Frasier) is just barely present as the boss who doesn't believe moms have a place in corporate America. Only Pierce Brosnan comes off well, because he gets to be graceful and elegant as the gracious managing partner who may have a thing for the leading lady.
The real mess of I Don't Know How She Does It lays in the plotting that never allows us to rally behind our hero. We are told at the top of the film that Kate is an excellent juggler, and yet all we see is her bungling everything. She is late dropping the kids off, late to work, and impossibly late to relieve the nanny at the end of the day. She sends e-mails to the wrong people, sleepwalks through most of her work day, and goes to sleep on her husband when they're supposed to be romantic. The woman seems to be a sleep deprived neurotic mess who's not doing anything effectively. We're never sure what her job truly is or why she enjoys it, and we feel bad for the kids and husband she seems to neglects in the process. This isn't an empowering movie as much as it is one that makes you question why some people even bother to do what they do when all it does is frustrate everyone around them. Why hire a nanny who is inflexible with her time? Why not concentrate when you're at work? Why ignore the pleas of your spouse and kids to stay home more? When you get right down to it, this woman is pretty selfish. In the real world, she'd probably be fired and divorced, in that order.
The Blu-ray treatment for this title is fine but not outstanding. The 1.78:1/1080p high definition transfer looks a bit strange, thanks to the filters and color treatments they employ. There's a yellow wash to most of the scenes that makes it look a bit ugly and keeps skin tones from looking their best. Plus, the added depth of detail is punishing on the cast's age spots and wrinkles, effectively killing the hope of any romantic look about it. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio does just fine, since we really only have to deal with dialogue and a bit of atmospherics in city and party sequences. The lone extra is a chit chat with author Allison Pearson, who talks about how everyone can relate to this material, and how pleased she is to have Sarah Jessica Parker in the lead role.
Outside of it being a cautionary tale about casting the wrong star in a lead, I Don't Know How She Does It doesn't accomplish anything it sets out to. Everything is far too predictable, and nothing about this woman is explained well enough for us to root for her. If you're a huge fan of Sarah Jessica Parker, I suppose this might give you some insight into what makes her a great physical comedienne, though it's not one of her best performances. She's far too exotic and smart to be playing this plain and dumb.
Guilty of making us wonder why she bothered to do it at all.
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