I Don't Know ... Takes a Conservative Turn
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- 2011 16 Sep
DVD Release Date: January 3, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: September 16, 2011
Rating: PG-13 (for sexual references throughout)
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Adaptation
Run Time: 95 min.
Director: Douglas McGrath
Actors: Sarah Jessica Parker, Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Christina Hendricks, Kelsey Grammer, Olivia Munn, Seth Meyers, Jane Curtain
If you aren’t already familiar with the Allison Pearson book that serves as the basis of I Don’t Know How She Does It, you could be forgiven for thinking, based on the title alone, that the story is another ode to the working woman—one that, in today’s culture, will peddle the suspect idea that women can work full-time, raise two kids, satisfy their husbands in every way and fulfill their own dreams. Lead actress Sarah Jessica Parker, who’s perhaps best known for starring as Carrie Bradshaw in the Sex in the City TV show and movie adaptations, only feeds those suspicions.
But what’s Kelsey Grammer doing in this film? The actor, of Cheers and Frasier fame, is one of Hollywood’s few (but growing) outspoken conservatives. He starred in the 2008 comedy An American Carol, heavily promoted to conservative audiences, and last year helped to launch TV’s RightNetwork.
Maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise then to discover that I Don’t Know How She Does It, after suggesting working women can have it all, takes a turn toward the traditional late in its story. The film could even be characterized as pro-life and pro-family in some sense, although its positive messages become clear only after 75 minutes of depictions of marital strain, contemplation of abortion and a lengthy flirtation with infidelity.
Kate Reddy (Sarah Jessica Parker) is on the cusp of a career breakthrough. She has a chance to land a major new account with her financial management group, thanks to the assistance of new business associate Jack Abelhammer (Pierce Brosnan, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief). The problem is that all the required travel has a less-than-positive impact on her home life. Her daughter already resents the large amount of time Kate spends away from home (her 2-year-old son is more forgiving), and her husband, hoping to win a bid on a new architecture project, would like Kate to be around more.
Kate does find support for her career ambitions from fellow working mom Allison (Christina Hendricks, Life as We Know It). Kate also feels pressure to set an example for her younger assistant Momo (Olivia Munn, Iron Man 2), who dreads the possibility that she, too, might one day have a child and have to figure out how to make it all work.
That fear becomes palpable when Momo does indeed become pregnant, and Kate steps in to steer Momo toward making the right choice about her pregnancy, advising her on the joys of motherhood. However, things in Kate’s world aren’t exactly going according to plan. She’s dealing with a crisis of her own: Jack is falling for her, and she’s not exactly offended by his advances.
Although I Don’t Know How She Does It has an arguably conservative message, it arrives at that message very gradually, while reserving any judgment of its characters’ actions. A pregnant Momo bemoans her failed birth control, but never expresses regret over her sexually active lifestyle (nor does the film make any serious attempt to explore the difficulties of being a single mom). Even after Kate’s story wraps up, there’s a crude joke about another character’s new sexual relationship. Some viewers will have more tolerance for these jokes than will others.
Whatever the film’s message, it plays out in a rather flabby manner. A romantic subplot between Kate and Jack generates little heat, and the script’s jokes about the mommy wars, which may have seemed fresh when the book was published nearly a decade ago, now feel stale. Most egregious is the film’s repeated return to a character who spews her venomous comments directly to the camera about the type of women she can’t stand, all while working out at a gym. Neither funny nor particularly cutting, these scenes add nothing thematically that isn’t already conveyed elsewhere in the film, and we wonder why the material didn’t end up on the cutting-room floor.
Is the film worth seeing? It does settle on a fairly conservative message about family life, but it has a hard time portraying any of its characters’ possible decisions as morally wrong. Parker gives a surprisingly pleasant comic performance as Kate—the way she handles a head lice attack shows that the actress has a knack for physical comedy—but none of the other cast members distinguish themselves. Director Douglas McGrath (Infamous, Nicholas Nickleby) trots out every trick he can think of to bring the material to life—voice-over narration, freeze frame, direct address—but the film still strains to find the right tone in its early scenes. Those who stick it out will see a story that feels inconsequential. It’s not a particularly painful film, nor is it particularly memorable.
Conservative themes are nice to encounter in a Hollywood movie, but they’re not enough to justify an unqualified recommendation. At best, I Don’t Know How She Does It is a trifle with some nice takeaway messages, but that doesn’t make up for the film’s shortcomings. Even its admirers will forget the film by the time next weekend’s new releases open.
- Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; “hell”; “s-it”; “a-shole”; reference to oral sex and suggested connotations of signing an email with “XO.”
- Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: Beer and wine consumption; mention of a death during a drug deal.
- Sex/Nudity: Kate and Richard kiss and discuss having sex, but Kate falls asleep; a man watches an erotic dancer, but we see only the lower part of the dancer’s legs; woman makes a crude reference to her lover’s anatomy; Jack kisses Kate on the cheek; discussion of failed birth control in an out-of-wedlock relationship.
- Violence/Crime: Discussion of possible abortion.
Marriage: Kate and Richard’s marriage is strained by their lack of time together; their daughter resents Kate’s travels for work.
Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.